WHO says governments spend only 2% of budget on mental health

budget on mental health, depression and anxiety
© Joe Sohm

While global cases of depression and anxiety rose by 25% in the pandemic, governments spent just 2% of their health budget on mental health

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a tangible increase in mental health issues. Many people lost their livelihoods, experiencing financial hardship or complete isolation, while others sank into negative emotions while reckoning with the state of the world.

Some scientists are finding ways to identify the biomarkers in human blood, that can identify depression. Others are figuring out how to specialise treatment.

But, are these changing needs reflected in health budgets?

80-90% of people have undiagnosed mental health issues

The Lancet, in a separate study, found that 80-90% of people in the Global South are actually experiencing mental health issues – without diagnosis.

Depression can lead, tragically, to suicide. Studies indicate that 70%-80% of people who die by suicide in high-income countries, and around half of those in low- and middle-income countries, suffer from mental illness, of which depression is the most common cause.

Now, the World Health Organisation find that there was a substantial increase in global rates of anxiety and depression, with a 25% increase in known cases.

“The information we have now about the impact of COVID-19 on the world’s mental health is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“This is a wake-up call to all countries to pay more attention to mental health and do a better job of supporting their populations’ mental health.”

Less than one mental health worker per 100,000 people

The WHO Mental Health Atlas showed that in 2020, global governments spent on average just over 2% of their health budgets on mental health. Many Global South countries said that they had fewer than one mental health worker per 100,000 people.

Among the most impacted are young people, who appear to be disproportionately at risk of suicidal and self-harming behaviours. It also seems that women have been more severely impacted than men, while people with pre-existing health conditions – such as asthma, cancer and heart disease – are also more likely to develop symptoms of mental disorders.

Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use at WHO, said: ”While the pandemic has generated interest in and concern for mental health, it has also revealed historical under-investment in mental health services. Countries must act urgently to ensure that mental health support is available to all.”

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