In April this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a conclusive study on the correlation between mental health and economic productivity. There were positive and negative points to the study, which can be aptly surmised with two singular points:
1. Depression and anxiety cost the global economy US$1 trillion each year. However:
2. Every US$1 invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of US$4 in better health and ability to work. This figure is derived only by considering the most common forms of mental illness globally (anxiety and depression).
The findings from WHO, published in the “The Lancet Psychiatry”, has drawn global attention from giant media outlets around the world, creating international dialogue on a topic that is seldom discussed. Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, spoke openly during the official press release, talking about exactly what she hopes the study achieves.
“We know that treatment of depression and anxiety makes good sense for health and wellbeing; this new study confirms that it makes sound economic sense too,” Dr Chan explained. “We must now find ways to make sure that access to mental health services becomes a reality for all men, women and children, wherever they live.”
Forbes author Carmen Nobel spoke with Nava Ashraf extensively during her piece covering WHO’s research efforts. Ashraf is an associate professor in the Negotiations, Organizations, and Markets unit at Harvard Business School, and is also a behavioural economist.
Speaking about the data, Ashraf stated, “we haven’t been as good at understanding the link between mental health and economic productivity as we could be.” She continued, explaining, “that’s on both sides—both in the way mental health can affect economic productivity and in the way mental health is an outcome of improvements in economic development.”
The bottom line is, mental health is more prevalent now than it’s ever been before. Between 1990 and 2013, the number of people suffering from depression and/or anxiety increased by nearly 50%, from 416 million to 615 million. Close to 10% of the world’s population are affected, and mental disorders account for 30% of the global non-fatal disease burden.
According to WHO’s “Mental Health Atlas 2014”, governments spend on average 3% of their health budgets on mental health, ranging from less than 1% in low-income countries to 5% in high-income countries. This is a shocking statistic, given that the latest research proves that “a 5% improvement in labour force participation and productivity is valued at US$ 399 billion, and improved health adds another US$ 310 billion in returns.”
Following her comments with Forbes, Nava Ashraf was asked by BBC World News to talk more extensively on the topic. Recommended viewing below.