Mental health issues in the developing world

Stories | June 23, 2020

Julian Eaton, CBM’s Global Advisor for Mental Health, answers questions about mental health, and how CBM is helping those most in need.

1. What is mental health?

When we talk about mental health, we often immediately think about mental illness, whereas in fact mental health is actually a good thing! Being mentally healthy is what allows us to have positive relationships with the people around us, to fulfil our work or community responsibilities, and to manage stress when it comes along.

This is why in our mental health work in CBM, we think a lot about helping people and communities maintain good mental health and build resilience. Of course, some people will develop mental health issues, especially in some of the more challenging places we work, where poverty, war, and other stresses are a reality.

This is why we also think about ensuring people who do have mental health issues can access good quality care and are included in their communities.

2. How common are mental health issues?

Julian Eaton CBM’s Global Advisor for Mental Health
Photo: Julian Eaton CBM’s Global Advisor for Mental Health

The World Health Organisation estimates that around one in four people will have a mental health issue that would benefit from treatment at some time in their life. Unfortunately, people often feel they need to hide these issues so they are not talked about, but in fact most of us will know several people who have lived with mental health issues at some time.

More than 400 million people around the world have a mental health issue that causes a significant impact on their lives, and 85% of these live in the poorer countries in the world. Mental health is a development issue!

3. Do mental health issues affect people as much as other impairments? Is it a type of disability?

Mental conditions like schizophrenia are considered ‘invisible’ but they often result in profound loss of function, with people finding it difficult to continue working and living their day-to-day lives. This is largely because workplaces and communities often do not provide the support people need to contribute to society in as meaningful a way as they would like, and instead creates barriers to inclusion.

These kinds of barriers mean that mental health issues are similar to other disabilities, as it often results in people not being able to participate in society, as they would like to, and instead experience stigma, discrimination and barriers to being included.

In fact, when compared with all causes of disability, depression is the single biggest cause globally. In fact, in addition to the human costs of this condition, it is estimated that by 2030, it will cost the global economy a staggering 12 billion working days – or 50 million years of work.

4. Who are most affected by mental health issues?

Mental health issues affect people of all ages. In fact, half of all mental health issues in adults have been shown to have started before the age of 14. As with many health issues, people generally recover better if they are able to access care early.

Particular groups in society have a higher risk of developing mental health issues, and these groups are often those who are most vulnerable in other ways. For example, women are more likely to be affected by depression, and there are increasing rates of suicide among young people.

Around the world, almost a million people per year die by suicide, and it is now the leading cause of death among young people in many countries.

5. Are services available to help people who experience mental health issues?

Even in richer countries like Australia, mental health services are often under-resourced in comparison to those for other impairment types.

In poorer countries, the gap in access to treatment is huge. In many countries where CBM works, over 90% of people with severe mental illness are not able to reach the kind of care that we would take for granted in richer countries.

It is because of this neglect and unmet need that CBM Australia supports projects in the poorest communities. We have been working for over 10 years to bring mental health care to people who would otherwise not be able to access it. CBM also works alongside people with mental health issues to help them to have a stronger voice to fight for their rights. It is exciting for CBM to be a part of the gradual recognition of mental health as an important issue.

If you need to talk to someone after reading this article, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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