Mental Health in the Developing World
According to the World Health Organization, the number of people diagnosed with a mental health disease has increased by 40 percent in the last 30 years. Poverty has been well-established as a driving force behind mental illnesses in the developing world. The Mental Health Foundation reports that 23 percent of men and 26 percent of women among the lowest socioeconomic class are at high risk of mental health problems. However, Psychiatric Times reports that many psychiatrists receive little training on intervening and addressing poverty and its relationship to mental disorders. The nonprofit Grand Challenges Canada is improving mental health in the developing world by funding innovations and expanding access to mental health care.

Mental Health in the Developing World By the Numbers

According to Grand Challenges Canada, 75 percent of the global burden from mental disorders is in developing countries. In addition, a World Health Organization report reveals some cogent statistics about the relationship between poverty and mental health:

  1. Depression is 1.5 to 2 times higher among low-income individuals.
  2. Common mental disorders are more prevalent for people living in poor and overcrowded housing.
  3. People with the lowest socioeconomic status have eight times more relative risk for schizophrenia than those of a higher socioeconomic status.
  4. People experiencing hunger or facing debts are more likely to suffer from common mental disorders.
  5. Evidence indicates the relationship between poverty and poor mental health is cyclical. Grand Challenges Canada is committed to ending the poverty-mental illness feedback loop.

Grand Challenges Canada

According to its website, Grand Challenges Canada has given 159,000 individuals access to mental health treatment. The organization’s project portfolio entails 85 projects in 31 countries and estimates that by 2030, the number of individuals impacted will be between 1.1 million to 3.2 million. Global Challenges Canada has influenced 17 mental health policies in various countries.

One example of Grand Challenges Canada improving mental health in the developing world is The Friendship Bench project in Zimbabwe. In 2012, Grand Challenges Canada funded a controlled study of more than 500 individuals with depression in the country. The patients involved received six 45-minute cognitive behavioral therapy sessions with a lay health worker, one of which took place in the individual’s home. The study found the prevalence of depression throughout program participants after treatment was less than 10 percent versus the approximate 33 percent of non-participants. The program has now spread to more than 70 clinics in Zimbabwe’s three largest cities.

In Vietnam, Grand Challenges Canada partnered with the Center for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population to develop the Smart Care project. The focus of the campaign centers around early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to enable the best circumstances for children with the disorder. The program is based on a mobile platform, which includes apps to support screening and home-based intervention, a model of pilot screening development and health checkups for children with ASD.

Grand Challenges Canada is improving mental health in the developing world through the funding of technologies that vastly expand access to care. In 2016 and 2017, the organization invested over CA$42 million in projects to mitigate mental disorders. By 2030, Grand Challenges Canada expects to have seen symptomatic improvement in 297,000 to 844,000 individuals involved in projects.

– Zach Brown
Photo: Flickr