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The Return on the Individual: A Visionary New Approach to Mental Health Investment

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The Return on the Individual: A Visionary New Approach to Mental Health Investment

The Return on the Individual: A Visionary New Approach to Mental Health Investment

By Elisha London, CEO, United for Global Mental Health and Dr Shekhar Saxena, Professor of the Practice of Global Mental Health, TH Chan Harvard School of Public Health


The True Cost of Poor Mental Health


We are living through a global mental health crisis. 284 million people are suffering from anxiety and 265 million from depression worldwide. Nearly 800,000 people are dying by suicide each year. Every country in the world is failing to respond, with less than 2% of health budgets globally being spent on mental health. 


Poor mental health costs the world economy US$2.5 trillion per year, but the costs cannot just be measured in financial terms. Mental health has a value of its own. Mental health affects us all. It affects us as individuals, it affects our families, our businesses, our economies and our societies. It affects our physical health and our ability to contribute to our workplaces and our communities. Now, more than ever.

Much like the costs, the benefits of investing can’t be reduced to dollars and cents. Investing brings huge returns - financial returns, but also returns to individuals and the societies of which they are a part. Too often, the case for mental health investment is reduced to financial statistics. It’s clear that a new approach is needed - one that puts individuals, real people, at the centre. 


The Return on the Individual 


Speak Your Mind, a global campaign of civil society campaigners for better mental health across 20 countries, have worked together with global experts to explore the wider case for investing in mental health in their new report: The Return on the Individual. The report shows how investing in mental health creates a ripple of positive effects that include, but go beyond the financial, to the individual and the social. Devora Kestel, Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization summarised in today’s launch event with Chatham House;

“There are clearly very good reasons for investing in mental health, we need to enhance wellbeing, protect human rights, improve economic efficiency and move towards universal health coverage.” 


For the first time, this report puts individuals at the forefront of the case for mental health investment and raises the voices of people with lived experience. Individuals like Timiebi, Graeme, Josephine, Sodkin and Ceceilia, who share their powerful stories in the report, are living proof of how investment has the ability to transform lives. These personal stories from around the world demonstrate the endless returns available to societies - from improved physical health, to positive impacts on the family unit, to social cohesiveness and more. 




As the Return on the Individual report shows, businesses too, can reap the benefits. Investing in employee mental health improves the bottom line whilst at the same time creating a happier, more efficient and more productive workforce. Trailblazing businesses such as Deloitte, HSBC, Unilever and many others are already acknowledging this and we applaud their efforts to prioritise mental health.

CEO of Unilever, Alan Jope, reminded us today that mental health provided business with a win-win opportunity of creating a better work and a healthy bottom line;

“We believe if we look after our people, our customers, our partners, our suppliers, the society and our planet then at the end of that the shareholder will be well rewarded”


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Time To Invest 


This visionary approach shows what is possible if the world invests in mental health at the recommended levels. New data produced for the report suggests that by reaching adequate government investment by 2030, cases of anxiety, severe depression and epilepsy could be reduced by 60 million and nearly 25 million additional healthy life years are gained - the additional number of years of life that a person lives without disability as a result of receiving a treatment - for those with anxiety, depression, psychosis, bipolar disorder or epilepsy. Perhaps most stark, is that 200,000 people living with severe depression, psychosis and epilepsy lives could be saved.


Our hope is that this report will equip anyone passionate about improving mental health with the case for support to approach their leaders to call for greater prioritisation and investment in mental health.  And, that decision makers who are hearing increased calls for action read this report to understand the many benefits that come from prioritising what so many in our world are talking about right now - our collective mental health.


In light of the current public health crisis, this report is timely and important. We know that COVID-19 will have significant short and long-term impacts on mental health around the world and we urge governments to integrate mental health into their national responses. It is time to invest in mental health and release the returns our lives, families, businesses, society and world needs now, more than ever. 


Download the full report here.