The (Mental Health) State of the World: 2022 WHO Report

Aug 31, 2022 - Florian Kleinau

This article is a summary of the WHO Mental Health Report, published in June 2022.

According to the WHO mental health report 2022, mental disorders are the leading cause of "years lived with disability" and rank second in the total global years lived with disabilities. Suicide still remains a major cause of death globally. The economic consequences of mental health conditions are enormous, with productivity losses significantly outstripping the direct costs of care.

The WHO report summarizes the global development of mental health between 2019 and 2022 and outlines necessary responses. This article aims to summarize some key takeaways from the report moving from the WHO’s understanding of mental health to the private sector’s recommended interventions in the next years.

What Factors Influence Mental Health?

At the fundament of the report is the observation that a person’s mental health is dependent on individual and social protective layers. One cannot function without the other and change must take place on both sides of this equation. The report highlights that vulnerability to mental health “is determined by a complex interplay of individual, family and community, and structural factors.” (p. 20).

Structural risks undermine personal resilience and vice-versa, structural buffers can increase individual resistance. Accordingly, risks and protective factors strike a balance with each other. Decreasing risks can counteract stagnating protective layers and vice-versa, increasing risks must be counteracted with an increase in protective layers (e.g. family bonds).

On the structural level, the report points out that there is a vicious cycle between mental health and socio-economic threats – childhood trauma, risk-taking behaviour, criminal involvement, alcohol and drug use, low financial resources, violence, poor education, etc.,  all weaken personal resilience against mental health disorders (p. 22).

However, this does not necessarily point toward problematic mental health situations for low-income countries. As the report highlights, mental health conditions are more prevalent in high-income countries.  While globally 970 million people live with a mental disorder (p. 40) the regional prevalence varies between 10.9% in African regions and 15.6% in the Americas (p.45).  Besides the influence of regional factors, the circumstances in which children grow up are most significant in building resilience.  Again, what is key to the WHO is the interplay between risks (e.g. socio-economic factors) and personal protective layers (e.g. family bonds).  

What is Mental Health According to the WHO?

According to the WHO, the mental health crisis emerges in conjunction with "individual resilience", the ability to cope is at the basis of people’s ability to connect, i.e. establish a sense of belonging, functioning in society, meaning being able to apply cognitive skills, earn a living, learn, being able to make changes in one’s life and ultimately being able to thrive and realise one’s own abilities.  These factors are clearly interconnected which highlights a need for multi-modal approaches to mental healthcare.

Mental healthcare on the small scale thus requires the consideration of the individual’s unique situation and an analysis of how to best care for their personal situation.

While the WHO points out that the mental health crisis is worsened by sudden political (and personal) incidences such as the COVID-19 pandemic or climate disasters, building strong protective layers for prevention and reaction can dampen their impact.

So, how can we build stronger protective layers?


How can we Counteract the Mental Health Crisis?

The WHO proposes three main pillars of change: deepen value and commitment, reshape environments and strengthen mental health care (p. 250).

WHO places mental health as a right but also a responsibility for all (pp. 15-18) highlighting that it requires collaboration between stakeholders. On the level of politics, three areas of commitment are identified: expressed commitment, Institutional commitment and budgetary commitment (p. 116). Changes in digital technology can play an important role in enabling people to perform these transformations (pp. 124-128). Increasing treatment effectiveness includes closing the gaps in: Information, Governance, Resources and Service. All these factors can increase the possibility for personalized interventions that help build or rebuild the individual’s protective layers.

New technologies, more funding and facilities can only help to some extent. In the end, it starts with awareness and acceptance.  Mental health must be discussed, prioritized and become important to us all. To allow for prevention, its importance in all areas of impact must be understood. No matter if you are a private corporation, a government body or a private individual, mental health and resilience is at the heart of our society and how it functions.  


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