Wars, pandemics, and environmental disasters can all have a damaging impact on mental health. GlobalDev has published several columns on this growing, yet neglected, challenge in developing countries – and the potential policy responses.
According to the World Health Organization, one in eight people or 970 million people around the world were living with a mental disorder in 2019. This number rose dramatically during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic with an increase of 25% in anxiety and depression. Yet relatively little attention is given by development practitioners to mental health. At GlobalDev, we decided to highlight the interactions of mental health and development with a series of columns on the topic. Here is what we have learned so far.
As Marc Rockmore and colleagues put it in their piece Mental health challenges of development and the environment, “mental health disorders are a first order development concern.” Not only does mental illness lead to direct costs in general health, but it has also been shown that mental health disorders have an important impact on careers, labor markets, and earnings.
The authors explain that early life exposure to substantial shocks are not an exclusive cause of adult mental health problems. In fact, research finds that events such as income fluctuations and climatic variations can also be a cause of mental disorders.
Similarly, in his article on Mental health and the Sustainable Development Goals, Crick Lund explains that depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia are socially determined and hence treating them without tackling the environment that causes them could be counter-productive. As he puts it, “why treat people only to send them back to the circumstances that made them sick in the first place?”
Lund calls for an integrated development agenda using mental health both as a means and a goal of international development. He illustrates this need as follows: “reduction of gender-based violence, cash transfers, housing improvements, improved education, and early responses to humanitarian emergencies all carry mental health benefits – and their impact and sustainability could potentially be enhanced with integrated mental health interventions.”
Another major factor affecting mental health is exposure to conflict. In her article Evidence-based mental health interventions in post-conflict countries, Theresa Betancourt suggests using education and employment training programs as potential delivery platforms for mental health services.
As she explains, one in six children live in countries affected by conflict – which can have grave consequences for their mental health, increasing the risk of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic disorders. In addition, while conflict deepens the need for healthcare, it also wrecks healthcare infrastructure, leaving a majority of individuals suffering from mental disorders untreated. Hence, “integration of evidence-based mental health interventions into innovative delivery platforms such as youth educational, employment and entrepreneurship programs may be key to supporting young people’s daily functioning and interpersonal relationship.”
We cannot mention mental health without talking about the pandemic. As mentioned earlier, during the first year of the pandemic, there was a 25% increase in cases of anxiety and depression.
In their article, Mental health costs of lockdowns: evidence from curfews in Turkey, Onur Altindag and colleagues show that in the short run, restricted mobility led to a considerable decline in mental health through social and physical isolation, especially among the most vulnerable populations.
The decline in mental health during the pandemic was also mentioned in several of our articles tackling food insecurity during Covid-19, resilience through the pandemic and the ways in which southern think-tanks have responded to the challenges linked to this period.