Mental health and sustainable development
Another year passed with Mental Health Day being observed globally by raising awareness and enabling people to recognise and address their mental health needs. Yet, the problem remains even if it’s not reaching alarming statistical levels despite acting towards prevention and rehabilitation. The WHO estimates one in four people experience an episode of mental illness in their lifetime, leading to 600 million worldwide being categorised as disabled with reduced psychological resilience. Alarmingly, majority of these live in low-income countries with four out of five receiving no treatment. The circumstances demand consideration that mental health is an issue with overlapping impact across various Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and is unquestioningly related to aspects of development. SDGs have interdependencies with mental health and in its absence, there cannot be peaceful and inclusive societies, economic growth, inclusive education, improved nutrition and maternal and child health. Moreover, mental illness and poverty have a dichotomous relationship meaning that poverty can be a trigger for mental illness and mental illness can in turn subject people to a poverty trap as they become unproductive and rely on family or the state.
Despite this, mental health is still not an issue on the national policy agenda in many developing countries and governments tend to allocate only 0.5% of their overall health budget towards mental healthcare. Mental wellbeing is critical in addressing social, political, and economic issues as it encompasses our emotional, psychological and social functioning, characterising our thinking and actions. However, mental health is the most neglected state of wellbeing. Shame and stigma leave the highest functioning people and delivery systems incapacitated, which is a bigger challenge in developing regions where service sectors are already compromised.
Symptoms for those suffering from mental illnesses may not always be prominent however they cannot be addressed in isolation from other health domains. For instance, those struggling with depression may find it hard to get out of bed in the morning, lack motivation to do basic chores, become insomniac and be physically present but mentally absent. The fact that mental health is neglected under pressures of keeping up appearances doesn’t mean that the problem is unreal or unworthy of attention.
Moreover, a 2018 Lancet report found that victims of psychosocial disabilities routinely face gross human rights violations including chaining, incarceration and physical abuse indicating humanity’s failure towards eradicating criminal treatment of a treatable condition. The social implications of a mental health crisis could potentially cause secondary harm to individuals, communities and economies if left untreated, costing the global economy nearly $16 trillion between 2010 and 2030.
Given this, the consequences of mental health wellbeing in attaining SDGs can be profound and prolific. Governments need to realise that development targets are universal in nature and so is mental health as it disregards creed, caste, colour or social status. It is especially a challenge for developing countries as it is an additional cost on the healthcare system, which is already trying to combat infectious diseases.
The global mental health community needs to campaign more effectively for mental health as a prerequisite for sustainable human development.
Mental illness is presently one of the most pressing development issues, devastating aspirations of many. Prevention must be integrated into poverty reduction and developmental work and an interdisciplinary and inter-sectional approach is needed. To achieve development one cannot compartmentalise the target of “no poverty” by solely accounting for economic factors. We need to go beyond education, health and innovation per se. Collaboration and cooperation between sectors should be a policy agenda requiring centralisation. We cannot aim to eradicate poverty or deal with the adversities of climate change if we continue to struggle with poor mental health and in effect, compromised human potential.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.