The case for global mental strength
For many families, friends and colleagues around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the conversation around mental health. Awareness has risen, stigma reduced and expectations, particularly around employee health, are rapidly changing. This in itself is extraordinary progress – a quick and quiet revolution – that is worth celebrating. 🙌
There remains a long way to go until mental health is properly cared for in our societies, no matter who we are and where we live. But when attitudes change, opportunities open up. And as we talk and learn more about mental health, so we are better able to empathize and understand. For the 1 in 4 of us who will suffer from poor mental health this year, and for the families and friends around us, the importance of acceptance, understanding and hope cannot be understated.
My own father battled with bipolar and depression, and died by suicide when I was just 17. This is a deep trauma that has become an inextricable part of who I am and it will always be with me. But it is also what drives me, empowers me and reminds me every day of how important my own mental health is to thriving and living my best life.
The extraordinary power of mental health is not only what it can do for own individual lives, but for our society as well, with the potential to create a kinder, more sustainable and productive world. In recent research carried out with United for Global Mental Health and Arabella Advisors, we found that mental health cuts across at least 12 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as both cause and symptom of other issues. To give just a few examples:
- SDG 2: Poverty: A vicious cycle, poverty is strongly associated with an increased prevalence of mental disorders, and individuals living with mental disorders are more likely to remain in poverty[i].
- SDG 3: Communicable diseases: By integrating mental health into HIV services, it is possible to reduce the rate of HIV transmission by as much as 11% by 2030, avoiding up to a million infections[ii].
- SDG 13: Climate crisis: For each one degree warming in temperature, there is a 1 percentage rise in suicides[iii].
In short, for every human-made problem (climate change, inequality, conflict, poverty), we humans also are at the heart of the solution. To resolve such complex, global issues, we need radical levels of collaboration, compassion and creativity – all skills that do better when we are mentally healthy and sadly suffer when we’re not.
To invest in mental health is therefore to invest in social and economic development. Yet the financing gap globally when it comes to mental health is extreme. On average, just 2% of government health spending[iv]and 0.5% of philanthropic health funding[v] goes to mental health. As a result, more than three quarters of those suffering with severe mental illness in lower and middle-income countries receive no treatment at all[vi].
Given the importance of mental health for us and for society, the obvious question is, “why is there such a persistent financing gap?” Our research asked philanthropists (including those who haven’t yet integrated mental health into their giving) and discovered barriers such as:
- A lack of visible leadership and momentum. Whereas high-profile philanthropists have been hugely successful in putting the environment front of mind, the same cannot yet be said for mental health. Gifts to mental health are becoming more commonplace, which is fantastic. But a significant commitment to visible and strategic philanthropic leadership in mental health is an opportunity for the taking!
- It’s hard to know what to do. The global mental health crisis can feel overwhelming in size, scope and complexity. With this mind, at the start of the year Kokoro partnered with Nexus to create the Future Mental Health Collective – a global peer-to-peer network of major mental health funders who come together to support each other and collaborate. An early project is www.mentalhealthcareforall.com, which lists funder-recommended mental health organizations having significant impact on the ground – a helpful guide for new funders wondering where to start.
- Data, data, data. As with so many areas of impact, mental health data remains disjointed and imperfect. While improving through initiatives such as the Countdown Global Mental Health 2030 and the WHO’s Mental Health Atlas, it can be hard to measure the full impact of giving to mental health, which in turn can make funding decisions more difficult. Arguably, this is also exactly why philanthropy has such an important role to play in mental health. While the ecosystem is strengthening and gathering pace, it is philanthropists who can catalyze change by being willing to take the early risks and show where there are important and impactful wins to be had.
For anyone who would like to know more about mental health philanthropy and how to get involved, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
[ii] Upcoming paper by United for Global Mental Health
[v] Philanthropy for global mental health 2000–2015. Global Mental Health, 7, E9. doi:10.1017/ gmh.2020.2