For decades, the world has painted mental health issues as an ‘incurable’ problem. As a result, stigmatization progressed and became a vacuum of hate. But the 21st century is different. Acceptance of mental health problems is more commonplace. And now, Covid-19 has made mental illness difficult to ignore.

The West leads in mental health awareness

The western world has largely funded research into understanding and treating mental health issues. In the last 10 years, the percentage of gross domestic product spent on mental health care stands at 10 to 13 per cent in England. Similar percentages are held by countries such as Portugal and Luxembourg. Looking closer, mental ill-health in England costs the taxpayer over 105 billion a year.

Aiming to help dissociate mental health from its taboo status, the United Nations has encouraged a policy of promotion and prevention. The UN embedded this within their 2015 17 Sustainable Development Goals, stating that there is ‘no health without mental health’. However, each country’s ability to meet these aims continues to vary, depending on resources and consistency.

Perceptions of mental health in non-Western countries

Generally, what the West does the world tends to follow. This however poses difficulties for non-Western and developing communities where mental health remains taboo.

Culture acts as the biggest hurdle when it comes to mental health advancement. Collectivist ideals are commonly embedded within non-Western countries. This sees a person’s actions as being representative of those around them, rather than just themselves. Within these communities conversations about mental health are painted as a sign of weakness. This results in individuals suppressing their mental health problems and never seeking treatment.

Research has identified that when individuals who are used to a collectivist environment are placed into an individualistic one, anxiety levels increase. When they were provided with a collective experience through group discussion and shared interests, anxiety levels were reduced. But this Western focus on support groups is largely absent elsewhere and not readily seen as a solution to different mental health disorders.

Mental health is a global problem

It’s not as though mental illness is exclusive to the West. Research of Myanmar, Pakistan, and Sri Lankin adolescents found that bullying is a cause of depression and anxiety. The paper optimistically concludes that resources are needed. Unfortunately, resources are rarely allocated in countries where mental health treatment is not seen as a priority. If we take Pakistan, self-stigmatization towards mental health has been embedded into the social conscience. Nepal reveals a similar mentality that sees mental health amongst the youth overlooked.

It is crucial to recognize that the fight for recognition towards mental health isn’t over — even in the Western world. Only 0.3 per cent of international funding has been designated towards mental health. Putting this into perspective, depression and anxiety alone cost the global economy $1 trillion each year. The conclusion then is that more needs to be done to treat this pandemic.

Covid-19 shone a light on mental health

The coronavirus has highlighted the importance of mental health more than ever. The imposed isolation following countless lockdowns and social distancing measures has caused mental health issues to spike. In the US, the presence of mental illness has increased by 66 per cent. In Wuhan, the rate of medical staff with ‘subthreshold mental health disturbances’ as a result of the virus is at 36.9 per cent. This spike in global mental illness has pushed for the release of mental health resources and treatments around the world.

The virus has opened a door, showing how different countries react to the same situation. A standardized experience is being shared around the world and because of this, its impact on mental health is being closely monitored.

Treatments in mental health should adapt towards the individual and their environment in order to have the best chance of success. A untied but nuanced approach to mental health care will help Western and non-Western countries alike to sever mental illness from its taboo past.

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