Mental health gets a global campaign boost

Millions worldwide suffer from mental health disorders, but only a minority will receive treatment, especially in poorer countries. World Mental Health Day is pushing for more investment.

If you haven't been personally affected by a mental health disorder, you probably know someone who has. One in four people will be affected by mental illness during their lifetime – a striking statistic that World Mental Health Day is working to combat this week.

Mental health issues are relatively high on the agenda in the western world. Yesterday saw 'Time to Change', which campaigns to end stigma and discrimination, receive £20 million in funding. Support and care is available in hospitals and the community, and celebrities ranging from Robbie Williams to John Prescott have spoken openly about their experiences with mental illness.

But an estimated 50% of mental illness sufferers don't get the care they need – a figure that rises to 85% in the developing world.

In low-income countries, there are 0.05 psychiatrists for 100,000 people – 170 times fewer than in the West. There are countries in Africa with 9 million people and just one psychiatrist; countries in Asia with just two for 29 million citizens.

The 30 cents per person allocated to mental health in low-income countries is also spent ineffectively. Large, isolated hospitals mean mental health is kept out of the community - fostering a lack of understanding that leads to prejudice. In Somalia, for example, civil war has made mental illness tragically common, but crippled what support and treatment is available to sufferers.

According to the World Health Organisation, 90% of those with mental disorders in Somalia will have been kept chained up at some point in their lives.

The theme for this year's World Mental Health Day is 'the Great Push' – a call for further investment in mental health to tackle some of these issues – and it's hoped that the campaign will lead to better provision for mental illness sufferers all over the world.

A day to remember?

But can World Mental Health Day really make a difference? Countries like Somalia are struggling in so many ways, and it's really no surprise mental health treatment is not a top priority. The mental health of developing countries is closely tied up with wide-ranging issues of global development – many would argue that a day of awareness-raising talks and events will have a limited impact.

In issues of mental health, however, attitudes are fundamental – experts and sufferers believe it's essential to change assumptions and prejudices about the mentally ill, and to place mental health centrally on the agenda. Mental illness destroys lives and families; as the most common global disability, depression has a major impact on how much people can contribute to society and to the economy in which they live.

You Decide

  1. Does having a 'day' to campaign for a cause really help tackle an issue? Are there too many theme days?
  2. Is stigma around mental health still a problem? Would you be worried to talk openly about mental illness in your family, for example?


  1. Design your own poster to publicise World Mental Health Day.
  2. Research a project that works to combat mental health problems. Turn the project into a case study: how does it use resources? Is it innovative in its approach? Has it been effective?

Some People Say...

“In global development, mental health shouldn't be a priority.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Are there 'official' events for the day?
Every year, the day has a theme – it could be the links between mental and physical illness, or mental illness and diversity – and produces a paper with a case for action on this issue. The campaign is supported with publicity from the World Health Organisation.
What are their particular requests?
The key message is an increase in investment – to $3-4 per person – and more targeted support rather than big hospitals.
Do other organisations get involved?
Yes – but not always for exactly the same cause. Mental health charities in the UK, for example, have focused more on decreasing the stigma that might surround mental illness.

Word Watch

Originally meaning a mark or a sign, 'stigma' now describes a set of social prejudices that surround something like mental illness and can lead to people being discriminated against, or rejected in society.
World Federation for Mental Health
An international membership organisation, founded in 1948 to campaign on better provision for mental health care.
Coastal country in East Africa, which has been marred by civil war. Only a small area of the country is currently under government control.


PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.