Mental Health Worldwide

          Mental health disorders are a major health concern faced by every country around the globe. According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that 450 million people worldwide suffer from some form of mental illness; in fact, mental, neurological, and substance-abuse disorders make up 13% of the global disease burden. In the last 45 years, suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide. Although mental health services should be a priority for all countries, there are some definite disparities in the availability and quality of mental health resources globally.

            In a talk given at TEDGlobal 2012, Vikram Patel, a mental health care advocate, stated that in developed countries approximately half of all individuals suffering from a mental disorder do not receive proper treatment. In developing countries, the numbers are even higher—about 90% of individuals are either inadequately treated or do not receive treatment at all.  The ranges in percentages of the population that suffer from a mental disorder varies greatly, from 24.6% of the US population (the highest, according to a World Health Organization report) to 4.7% of the Nigerian population (the lowest). However, the differences the number of afflicted people between developed countries like the US and developing countries like Nigeria in reality may not be as large as it is reported. It is estimated that the percentage of people with a mental disorder in developing countries is much higher, but people in those countries are more reluctant to seek treatment, due to stigma or lack of access to treatment.

            Not only is there a huge difference in the reported numbers of people with mental illness between developed and developing countries, but there is also a disparity in the amount of money spent on mental health treatments per person. In low to middle income countries, such as Haiti, Nigeria, or North Korea, the average amount spent on mental health per person is less than $2 annually, according to the World Health Organization. In higher income countries like the US and Spain, the average is around $60. The majority of these averages are spent on mental hospitals in both income categories.

            There is also a contrast in where the funding for mental health treatment comes from. In developed countries, the government funds the majority of mental health care, while many developing countries fund this care through individual households. Unsurprisingly, the availability, funding, and quality of treatment is largely dependent on the income level of countries, as developing and low-income countries do not have the resources to provide high quality treatment options to an appropriate amount of the population. Even in developed and high income countries though, the availability and quality of treatment is almost as inadequate as it is in less developed countries, as the number of mental health workers ranges from 15 to 45 per 100,000 people, and the global median is 9 per 100,000 people. Additionally, the percentage of countries that actually have stand-alone mental health laws is a little above 60%, with only 18% having updated those laws within the last 5 years, as stated in a 2014 World Health Organization report.

            Fortunately, there is a new movement toward improving mental health care and making it a priority on a global scale. The World Health Organization has launched a “Mental Health Action Plan,” which set goals for all countries to both combat the stigma surrounding mental health, as well as expand the services available to populations around the world. The plan aims to have the goals completed by 2020 and has specific targets that allow for these changes to be measurable. While virtually every country has major work to do to reach these goals set by WHO, the focus on changing the way mental health is perceived and dealt with will undoubtedly lead to improvements of the lives of people suffering from mental illness internationally.


World Health Organization Mental Health Action Plan:

World Health Organization Mental Health Atlas 2014: