What is global mental health?

Global mental health is part of the field of global health, an area of study and practice that aims to improve and achieve health equity for all the world’s people – through education, research and action.

Mental health plays a major role in the quality of life of people wherever they live in the world. In both high and low-income countries, mental health is a problem for a large part of the population. Depression, for example, is as common in Africa as it is in Europe. Today, mental illness accounts for up to 13% of the global burden of disease – yet only 1-2% of many countries’ health budgets are allocated to necessary interventions in the field.

The cost of mental health problems in the world is enormous – greater than the cost of cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases combined. At the same time, investments in global mental health are often effective – 1 dollar invested can return 3-5 dollars in the form of increased productivity.

However, the harsh reality is that where you are born affects what help is available. In low- and middle-income countries, more than 75% of people with mental illness lack access to effective treatments (about 50% in high-income countries). Stigma and lack of knowledge lead to social exclusion and human rights violations. In many cases, institutionalization may be the only care offered to people with severe mental illness. The field of global mental health therefore has a particular focus on low- and middle-income countries and marginalized groups in high-income countries.


The last few decades have seen a major shift in global health. Declining maternal and child mortality rates and greater ability to treat infections have led to greater attention being paid to other types of health problems.

The term global mental health was first coined in 2007 when The Lancet published a series of articles highlighting the suffering caused by mental illness in all countries of the world. The series of articles drew particular attention to the lack of access to effective treatments in low- and middle-income countries.

Global sustainability

People’s mental health is affected by many other areas of global development – such as economic stability, equality and migration. The links often go both ways: for example, people living in poverty are more likely to suffer from mental health problems, and people with mental health problems often find it difficult to move out of poverty. In the quest for an equal and just world, it is therefore important that mental health is given its rightful place on the global development agenda, while at the same time tackling ill health by working towards a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable world.

Through research and practical experience, we can continuously learn more about how mental illness can be prevented and treated in different contexts and in different parts of the world. To change how the topic is understood and prioritized both in Sweden and globally, it is important that this knowledge reaches a wider audience. It is our goal as a network to drive this change – and we encourage you to join us!