The world faces an epidemic of mental health problems that cuts across borders, economies, and cultures and carries a stigma that leaves people suffering in silence. Tackling the problem requires political, business, and civil society leaders to make mental health and wellness a global priority.
According to a study by the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion every year in lost productivity. Yet the same study also suggested that every dollar invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety – the two most common mental health conditions – can generate a return of $4 in terms of improved wellbeing and increased ability to work.
The WHO study is a welcome intervention. For too long, we have detached the mind from the body and regarded mental conditions as something separate from our overall health. As a result, millions of people needing mental health support have been ignored, with a dramatic impact on economic resources, productivity, and output.
The reality, of course, is that mental and physical health are closely connected, with each contributing to overall wellbeing. We must recognize this if we want the world to be a happier and more prosperous place for future generations.
To succeed, efforts to tackle major global problems such as mental health must be collaborative and sustainable.
First, we need to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace. No one should suffer in silence with a condition that can be treated and even prevented in some cases. By acknowledging mental health and wellness issues at work, we can make a difference in our homes, schools, and communities as well. Seeking mental health care should be as routine and unremarkable as seeking treatment for high blood pressure, diabetes, or a heart condition.
Furthermore, we must reduce mental health inequity, a frequently ignored issue. This is often a problem in lower-income communities, where populations may be at greater risk of pathology and often face the highest obstacles to getting care, in part owing to a lack of the specialized resources available in wealthier areas.
Third, our health systems must shift from “sick-care” to “well-care.” To move mental wellbeing into the mainstream of health care and pursue primary prevention as the most efficient approach, we must understand how to counteract and ameliorate the effects of adverse childhood experiences, which are highly correlated with poor mental and physical health later in life. The game-changer will be found not in hospitals or clinics, but in communities that nurture rather than traumatize the next generations. For companies such as ours, this means learning how best to deliver health, not just health care.
A Guest Editorial