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Global Mental Health

Updated on April 2, 2014

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Global Mental Health

The World Health Organization defines health as ‘‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity’’. The health of a community can be affected by public health threats that occur across the globe. The focus of global health places a priority on improving health and achieving equity in the health for all people worldwide (Patel & Prince, 2010). Mental health disorders are a rapidly increasing problem across all countries and cultures. They are expected to rise in many countries through a variety of factors including population growth, aging, marital breakdown, increasing debt, migration, and changing climate (Saxena & Skeen, 2012). The main categories of mental disorders are common conditions, psychosis, substance abuse and dementia. Common conditions include depression, anxiety, phobias and obsessive compulsive disorders while psychotic disorders are severe mental disorders involving disturbances in perceptions, beliefs and thought processes (Patel & Prince, 2010). Mental illness places a heavy burden on the population in terms of suffering, disability, mortality as well as the costs of health and social care. Positive mental health is vital to a person's wellbeing, their interpersonal relationships and also plays an important role in the economics of the society (Saraceno & Dua, 2009).

Mental health is more than just the absence of symptoms or distress. Mental health is a state of positive wellbeing and self esteem as well as the ability to perceive the dignity and worth of others (Saraceno & Dua, 2009). This is a state in which a person can realize their abilities, be able to cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is capable of making a contribution to the community. Improved mental health contributes to healthy development, achievement of educational, social and financial goals, and aids in the prevention of health problems (Patel & Prince, 2010). As such, mental health and physical health are closely connected and are both indispensable parts of an individual's general health and their value to the society they live in. Those with mental illnesses have a higher rate of poverty due to high treatment costs, lack of social and economic opportunities or the loss of employment due to low productivity (Patel & Prince, 2010). The World Health Organization published the Mental Health and Development Report documenting the isolation people with mental health disorders have from their communities which results in decreased access to health care, social services, education and employment opportunities. As a consequence of this isolation they are more likely to die prematurely compared with the general population (World Health Organization [WHO], 2010).

When comparing the burden of mental disorders to the resources available for health care it is evident not enough resources are place (Saraceno & Dua, 2009). Neuropsychiatric disorders make up 13% of the global disease burden and account for 7 of the top 15 causes of burden of disease (World Health Organization [WHO], 2009). Suicide is one of the three leading causes of death among people between the ages of 15 and 44 years worldwide. Depression is the third leading contributor to disability-adjusted life years and is also the leading cause of burden of disease for women between the ages of 15 and 44 years (Patel & Prince, 2010). By 2030 it is predicted that depression will be the second highest cause of disability in the world (WHO, 2009). According to the Mental Health Atlas, published by the World Health Organization in 2011, the resources available to prevent and treat mental disorders, and help protect the human rights of people living with these conditions is inadequate with the distribution of resources across regions and income levels significantly disproportionate. It was found that most countries spend an average of 3% of their total health expenditures on mental health and that more than 75% of people identified with serious anxiety, mood, impulse control, or substance use disorders in low- and middle-income countries received no care at all (World Health Organization [WHO], 2011). Countries with limited health care budgets spend an even lower percentage on mental health, resulting in a few resources available and provided treatment being far below minimum acceptable standard (Saxena & Skeen, 2012).

How Nursing Can Impact the Mental Health Problem

The nursing profession can significantly impact this health problem due to fact they are a major presence in the mental health care field. Globally, there are more nurses per 100,000 population working in mental health than all other human resources groups combined (Saraceno & Dua, 2009). Through understanding the relationships between mental health, poverty and economic performance nurses working within the mental health sector can help provide opportunities to draw more people into education, employment and other economic activity. Nurses can provide at risk individuals education on practices designed to promote self-efficacy, emotional and social skills, motivation, empathy and pro-social behavior and maintaining strong social networks (Patel & Prince, 2010). All nurses can impact change to help relieve this problem by educating the public and actively working towards improvements in health care policy.


Patel, V., & Prince, M. (2010, May 19). Global mental health: A new global health field comes of age. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 303(19), 1976-1977.

Saraceno, B., & Dua, T. (2009). Global mental health: the role of psychiatry [Supplemental material]. European Archives Of Psychiatry And Clinical Neuroscience, 259, S109-S117.

Saxena, S., & Skeen, S. (2012). No health without mental health: challenges and opportunities in global mental health. African Journal of Psychiatry, 15(6), 397-400.

World Health Organization. (2009). The global burden of disease: 2004 update. Geneva: World Health Organization.

World Health Organization. (2010). Mental health and development: targeting people with mental health conditions as a vulnerable group. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2011). Mental Health Atlas. Retrieved from



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