Best known for its exquisite marine life, the Solomon Islands is a nation of approximately 700,000 in Oceania. Furthermore, the World Health Organization’s depression rate estimates put the country as the least depressed nation in the entire world. To make this even more impressive, the Solomon Islands’ GDP per capita is lower than that of the 10 most depressed countries.
So, what is its secret? How does an impoverished nation grow to boast the world’s lowest rates of depression? Unfortunately, the answer is that these numbers grossly misrepresent the situation.
The Problem of Diagnosis
Mental health statistics rely on diagnoses, which are not widespread in impoverished nations. Mental health in the Solomon Islands seems low. However, this is because of inadequate healthcare which results in undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses.
Though one cannot simply say that all impoverished nations have higher rates of depression, their statistics may be untrustworthy or undocumented. Additionally, merit exists regarding the idea that citizens of some less wealthy nations are actually happier. This is often because of spirituality or a closer community. However, several factors suggest that this is not the case in the Solomon Islands.
Equality and Depression
The two most striking examples of this phenomenon revolve around equality. The first is gender inequality. This problem is easy to see through statistics of domestic abuse. According to the National Institute of Health, more than three in five women in the nation revealed that they suffered from “physical[ly] and/or sexual[ly]” abused. This rate is among the highest in the world.
The second suggestive element of the Solomon Islands’ reported depression rate is lower than in reality is sexuality intolerance. Gay marriage remains illegal for men, as does adoption. Non-straight people do not receive equal protection under the law, and conversion therapy is legal. These all take substantial tolls on the mental health of homosexual people. The community already reports higher than average rates of depression and suicide.
The outstanding mental health in the Solomon Islands does in fact seem to be a grave case of misleading data. However, such an investigation does yield two significant and optimistic takeaways. First, the case of the Solomon Islands shows the importance of fighting for equality. Misleading statistics can entirely conceal the struggles of minority groups through the impression that the nation is not in need of development aid. Australia, a close partner to the west of the Solomon Islands, is doing great work to fight this inequality, which includes increasing mental health resources.
Second, an integral part of foreign aid needs to look out for psychological well-being. Poor nations do not have the proper training in diagnostics to communicate that mental health should be a priority, but that is part of healthcare, another key component of development. Thankfully, this idea underwent a recent proposal to the U.S. Congress through the MINDS Act. This act would force the world’s richest nations to consider the mental health of the nations to which they provide aid. Hopefully, with adequate support, these organizations and partnerships will address mental health in the Solomon Islands.
– Sam Konstan