Global Mental Health

 “Let us recognize that there can be no health without mental health.”  -U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (2008)

Evidence has shown that mental health is fundamental to physical health, economic success, and general well-being. Yet, we know that mental health and substance use disorders account for approximately 10% of the total global burden of disease, and few countries devote resources to the promotion of mental health and to the prevention and treatment of these disorders. Across the globe, the treatment gaps for mental health and substance use disorders are large. As a result, many people who need care do not receive it. Further, people living with these conditions often suffer systematic discrimination in many facets of their lives. 

Helpful to understanding the scale and scope of the global mental health crisis is a series of papers that appeared in The Lancet in 2007. The series identified gaps in the evidence base for depressive disorders, alcohol and substance-use disorders, child and adolescent mental disorders, and psychotic disorders, with a focus on developing countries. Increased awareness of global mental health concerns in recent years has resulted int the integration of mental health interventions and promotion efforts in the field of international health and in the humanitarian and development world. The Sustainable Development Agenda, adopted by the United National General Assembly in 2015, world leaders - for the first time - recognized the promotion of mental health and well-being and the prevention and treatment of substance abuse as health priorities. Specifically, Goal 3 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals focuses on ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages. World leaders have committed to “prevention and treatment of noncommunicable diseases, including behavioral, developmental and neurological disorders, which constitute a major challenge for sustainable development.”

Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health and Sustainable Development 

Vikram Patel’s (Presidential Citation for Lifetime Achievement) recent keynote address shared highlights of the Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health and Sustainable Development (October, 2018)  at the Coming Together for Action 2018 conference. This evidence-based model is a systematic but flexible approach that provides strategies for “reframing mental health”.  The Landmark Report has four foundational pillars: (1) all countries are ‘developing’ when it comes to mental health; (2) mental health exists along a continuum from mild, time-limited distress to chronic, progressive and severely disabling and that the mental health needs of individuals or populations are complex; (3) individual mental health is unique to the social and environmental influences of each person, and (4) the actualization of mental health as a fundamental human right for all people.

Although the understanding of global mental health has improved since the initial Lancet series, this report discusses pivotal steps in addressing current challenges and moving beyond dated responses.  Effective mental health services must be scaled up as an essential component of universal health coverage and fully integrated into the global response to other priorities. Strategies must encourage community health workers as mental health workers.  Barriers and threats to mental health need to be addressed in conjunction with protective public policies.  New innovations should be embraced, with particular focus on expanding non-specialist individuals and digital technologies to deliver a range of mental health interventions, while mobilizing the voices of people with lived experience of mental disorders.  The adoption of these platforms will facilitate a continuum of care from the community to specialist care.  Additional investments, in conjunction with the support of innovation and implementation that is guided by research from diverse disciplines with strengthened monitoring and accountability for global mental health, will provide opportunities for upholding people’s fundamental human rights.   In short, community-based interventions can prevent mental health problems and advocate for specialist care for those who need it.  

Our Work on Global Mental Health

In 2016, the Global Alliance formed a task force to help us discern how we can best support efforts to promote mental health across the globe. In 2017, the Board of Directors for the Global Alliance approved a resolution on global mental health and substance use disorder developed by the task force. In 2019, the task force will be presenting a panel session at the Society for Community Research and Action's biennial conference, which is being co-sponsored by the Global Alliance.

Our Spotlight features research in AJO on global mental health.  

Want to learn more?

What can you do? 

  •  Learn more about the mental health challenges faced in countries across the globe and share what you have learned with others.
  •  Support organizations that address global mental health.
  •  Join in the World Health Organization's promotion of World Mental Health Day on October 10.