Experts say there are six ways to tackle the world’s “monumental” mental health crisis

Dark times.
Dark times.
Image: AP Photo/Eric Gay
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The world is failing to tackle a mental health crisis that has resulted in a “monumental loss of human capabilities and avoidable suffering,” according to a new report. The review, by a team of 28 global experts, was published in the Lancet medical journal yesterday, and estimates the cost of the crisis will hit $16 trillion by 2030.

More than 13 million lives could be saved every year if mental illness was treated properly–or at all, the report concludes. The research was launched at the Global Summit on Mental Health Culture Change, a high-level meeting in London.

The report states that the burden of mental ill-health is rising around the world, despite scientific advances in treatments for many mental health disorders. The report blames the poor quality of mental health services, which it says are “routinely worse than the quality of those for physical health.” When it comes to those services, “all countries can be thought of as developing countries” because of “vast inequities” in distribution and access to mental health resources.

So what can be done?

The experts say that “a historic opportunity exists” to reframe mental health as a sustainable development goal at a global, institutional level. That’s because mental health problems are expensive to treat, place a burden on public health, impact a country’s productivity levels, and contribute to socio-economic inequality. In that sense, promoting good mental health is a key to “sustainable socioeconomic development, improved general health, and a more equitable world.”

The experts who wrote the report say there are six ways to tackle the global mental health crisis, including scaling up mental health disorders as an integrated, essential component of universal health coverage; addressing barriers and threats to mental health treatment; protecting public policies that target mental health; embracing new opportunities in technology; investing more in treatments; and investing more in research.

Currently, mental health receives less than 1% of global aid. But it’s not just about money; it’s about better targeting of spending. The experts state that most investments in mental health go towards hospitals and institutions, not ”community-oriented, person-centered care, with a focus on integration in routine health and social care platforms.”

On World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10), many international organizations have pointed out that one in four people will deal with a mental health condition at some point in their lives; young people are particularly vulnerable to these conditions. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the third leading cause of illness and disability among adolescents, and suicide is the third leading cause of death in teenagers between 15 and 19.

The report also cites a 2015 study that showed that the number of deaths typically attributed to mental health disorders is wildly underestimated. “Although less than 1 million deaths are attributed to mental disorders [in 2010], natural history models showed that about 13 million excess deaths occurred in 2010 in people with mental disorders,” the experts write. ”The era of ‘no sustainable development without mental health’ has begun.”