Mental health is the ability to cope with life’s stresses, disappointments and losses – to build healthy relationships and achieve meaningful work, school or community activities. It is also the ability to recover from illness, adversity or trauma, and to find meaning and fulfillment in your life. The more mentally healthy you are, the better your physical health is and the easier it is to bounce back from challenges.
While everyone needs good mental health, people with a mental illness face unique challenges and need specific support to stay well. Mental disorders are real illnesses that can have a devastating impact on an individual’s quality of life, including serious problems with thinking and emotions, such as anxiety or depression. Psychiatrists, nurses, psychologists, social workers and physicians assistants are trained to diagnose and treat mental health disorders.
There are a number of factors that contribute to mental health problems, including genes, brain chemistry, trauma and experience, lifestyle choices and environment. Many of these conditions can be prevented or treated with medication, psychotherapy (talk therapy) and other methods. Often, people with mental health problems can live with their illness and enjoy meaningful lives, but they must be identified and supported to do so.
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted or halted essential mental health services and has put extra pressure on those who already struggle with limited resources. Many people, especially young adults, report worsening mental health since the start of the pandemic, while women with children and those from minority groups – such as Hispanics and Blacks – have reported greater declines. In addition, the gender gap in mental health has widened during this period.
While a mood low or high is normal, it can become a sign of an untreated mental disorder when it interferes with your daily functioning or impedes your ability to interact with others. Family members or friends can help identify signs that you need care.
Mental illness affects people all over the world, but is more common in low-income countries, where less than 2% of health budgets go to mental health. Despite the challenges, there is now unprecedented global recognition of the importance of mental health and a willingness to seek care.
The World Bank’s Mental Health Program aims to reduce the burden of mental illness by improving access to treatment and recovery supports. It focuses on improving the capacity of low-income countries to deliver effective mental health services and to integrate mental health into primary care. We do this by supporting countries to establish partnerships with specialized NGOs and other organizations, training staff to deliver basic counselling and psychotherapy, and helping them develop systems for monitoring and responding to mental health problems. Our work in developing countries has shown that when mental health services are integrated into primary care, there is a higher rate of early identification and referrals to treatment. As a result, people with mental health disorders can begin to recover sooner and be more productive and resilient in their communities.