Why Africa Needs to Invest in Mental Health

Mathari Hospital is the only psychiatric hospital in Kenya. Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images

More than 13% of the global burden of disease is due to disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and substance abuse. Almost three-quarters of this burden lies in low- and middle-income countries, because of extremely scarce health resources and investment. Many countries allocate less than 1% of the health budget to mental health. Poor or non-existent access to evidence-based care also leads to the need for long-term care and increased costs of care.

The economic burden is also significant. The global cost of lost productivity due to depression and anxiety disorders is an estimated US$1.15 trillion a year. Around 4.7 billion days of productivity are lost.

There is good evidence that these conditions are treatable. But the estimates of people in sub-Saharan Africa receiving treatment are jarring. Only 15% of South Africans with mental health conditions receive treatment. In Ghana and Ethiopia the estimates are less than 10%.

We’ve spent decades researching mental health and health economics around the world. Our research has demonstrated that, for example, peer support for treating perinatal depression shows benefits that far outweigh any costs incurred in delivering the treatment. Read more…

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