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A Look at Mental Health Around the World    

A Look at Mental Health Around the World

By Hallie Belle Sheinbaum

While researching mental health around the world, we found that over 970 million people worldwide have a mental health or substance use disorder. Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder, affecting over 284 million people worldwide, followed by depression, which affects more than 280 million people worldwide. While mental health looks different in how it is recognized, supported, and prioritized across the globe, statistics like these show that mental health affects all of us, no matter where we live. As a byproduct of COVID-19 and the increasing number of people struggling with mental health disorders in the United States, we are just beginning to recognize the important role mental health plays in our lives. To get a better sense of where things stand on a global scale, we looked at the different ways mental healthcare is approached and prioritized across the world. 

England, for its part, started a national experiment in 2008 that some considered the world’s most ambitious effort to treat depression, anxiety, and other common mental illnesses. The country offers open-ended talk therapy free of charge at clinics across the entire country for all ages. According to figures from 2017, the program now screens a million people per year, and the number of adults with common mental disorders who recently received some mental health treatment jumped from one in three to one in four as a result. Experts believe the program has also made it easier for people to talk openly about therapy in a culture known for being more reserved.

Other countries, like New Zealand, have started to recognize that mental health issues are often rooted in societal problems such as racism, economic inequality, and unemployment. In 2019, New Zealand’s government dedicated the bulk of its NZ$ 1.9 billion budget for mental health and well-being over a five year period to community-based organizations that address these systemic problems. One of those organizations is Emerge Aotearoa, which offers community-based support and therapeutic services to people with mental health problems, substance use disorders, or disabilities. “We’re finding in the practices that have had this [community-based] model for a while, the outcomes have been really positive,” the CEO of Emerge Aotearoa, Barbara Disley, told The Commonwealth Fund. 

Similar to its neighboring country, Australia has made great strides in its approach to mental healthcare accessibility over the last two decades. Since 2006, Australia has funded brick-and-mortar centers for young people (ages 12 to 25) who need mental health services or social support. They offer services to help people cope with depression, anxiety, anger, bullying, and other challenges like unemployment, which has been shown to take a toll on mental health. Run by a nonprofit called Headspace, the centers’ staff includes physicians, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, nurses, peer counselors, and specialists in substance use treatment. However, there is still a gap in care for Aboriginal communities in Australia, despite a greater need for them due to the trauma and racism they often face: a 2020 report found that Aboriginal people experience depression (52%) and anxiety (59%) at much higher levels than non-Aboriginal Australians (32% and 47%, respectively). Organizations like The Healing Foundation have cropped up to fill the void of government-driven services.

Despite the increased global focus on mental health, there is still a large stigma associated with it in certain parts of the world. According to a National Institute of Mental Health study, 40% of the 57.7 million Americans with a diagnosable mental disorder go untreated annually due to the stigmas associated with mental health disorders and the lack of accessible treatment. 

Similar stigmas exist worldwide. Research shows that in some places in Japan, traditional beliefs that mental illness is caused by “evil spirits” are still upheld, and some consider it to not be a real illness. As a result, many Japanese people affected by mental illness are hesitant to seek treatment or discuss mental illness with anyone outside of their family, leading many people to suffer in silence. In some parts of India, struggling with a mental health disorder is also perceived with a sense of judgement and considered to be the result of a lack of self-discipline and willpower. Because of this stigma, as well as a lack of awareness and access, there are significant gaps in treatment. A National Mental Health Survey in 2016 found that nearly 80% of those suffering from mental disorders in India did not receive treatment for over a year. 

There are also generational differences in how mental healthcare is perceived. A study this year from the American Psychiatric Association found that Gen-Z and Millennials were significantly more likely to receive mental health treatment or go to therapy than their Gen-X and Baby Boomer counterparts. This trend is also seen in Thailand. In a study of Thai students at Mahidol University in Bangkok, participants stated that their parents and older relatives perceive mental disorders negatively. One student said, “If I were to have depression and tell my parents, I think they [would] say something like, ‘you think too much, or you use your phone too often.’ I don’t think my parents are aware of this issue or even educated about this. They don’t think it is possible to have depression.” 

While there have been some crucial improvements made in the last couple of years in the way that mental health is addressed and supported, the number of people struggling with mental health disorders worldwide has continued to increase. It’s clear from our research that there are still many strides to be made, both here in the U.S. and internationally, including greater awareness-building and more accessible treatment options. At The Local Optimist, we believe that the more we can bring the mental health conversation to the forefront, the easier it will be for others to acknowledge their mental health experiences and seek help when needed.

Keep the conversation going by commenting on this story below. You can also connect with us about whatever’s on your mind by texting The Local Optimist Hotline at 310.299.9414 and subscribing to our bi-monthly newsletter here.