Mental health issues are a far bigger problem than most people realize, with the U.S. National Institutes of Health estimating that about 30% of the global population suffers from a mental health disorder and that more than two-thirds of them never get the care they need. That shocking statistic should make it clear that health care systems around the world are proving woefully inadequate at meeting the needs of the affected population.
It’s becoming clear that solving this growing global problem is going to fall to a whole new generation of healthcare professionals, planners, and government officials. Before we can get to work, though, we’re going to have to agree on what needs to be done to fix it. Here’s one perspective that can serve as a place to start.
There’s a sad reality that people suffering from mental illness have to deal with every day of their lives. It’s something that’s completely external to their condition, and wholly outside of their control. That something is the stigma that we, as a society, attach to mental illness. That stigma, as much as any other factor, is a major impediment to addressing the growing mental health crisis.
Early on in our lives, we’re taught to think of mental illness as some kind of a defect; a flaw that means we should keep our distance. In reality, only a tiny minority of the mentally ill pose a danger to those around them, and the statistics show that the mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of a crime than to commit one. It’s vital that we all take steps within our own lives and social circles to correct the record so we can finally begin to have an open and honest dialogue about – and with – those among us that are suffering in silence.
Acknowledging the problem and dealing with it openly is just a first step. We’re also going to have to address the lack of resources that governments around the world are devoting to mental health care initiatives. It should be an easy sell – research has indicated that every dollar spent on mental health care results in a net benefit of four dollars to the economy of the nation making the investment. That by itself represents a higher rate of return than most other government expenditures.
We’re also going to have to take steps to support individuals that are interested in becoming mental health care workers, as they are in very short supply around the world. Even in advanced economies like the US, huge swaths of the population have no access to mental health care due to a lack of qualified providers. Some nations, like Australia, are creating new degree programs like the masters in mental health nursing that are designed to create a new, high-skilled base of mental health professionals to meet the growing demand. Programs like those should be expanded and financially incentivized to the greatest extent possible.
Even though a lack of mental health care is a real and growing worldwide problem, there are some places that are addressing it better than others. That means that there are plenty of places that could serve as a model for how the rest of the world can design their own responses to the crisis. One such example is found in Germany, which is well regarded for its overall health care system and a strong social safety net.
In Germany, financial and medical support is provided to those in need of mental health services, and every attempt is made to provide treatment within local communities. That helps to prevent stigmatization and keeps patients integrated into society, which leads to better clinical outcomes. It’s instructive to note that the German model is even being adapted to deal with Europe’s growing refugee population, as settled refugees are being trained to serve as peer counselors for new arrivals, many of whom suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and related conditions.
These are only a few of the things that we’re going to have to do to solve the growing global mental health crisis, but they are by no means exclusive. As the needs of the affected individuals change, we’re going to have to adapt and react to make sure we continue to tackle the problem head-on in an open, caring, and direct manner. With the incidence rate as high as it is, it’s not a problem that any of us can afford to ignore. The need is clearly there. It’s going to be up to all of us to rise to the challenge and help those in need, so add your voice and effort in every way you can.