Society Insights

The global mental health challenge: trends, disparities, and solutions

The trend

Of all the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, the global mental health crisis is one of the most momentous, with vast social and economic repercussions, beyond the impact on healthcare. The World Health Organization (WHO) tracked an upsurge of over 25% in cases of depression and anxiety in the early days of the pandemic, costing 12 billion work days on a yearly basis. This scenario is exacerbated further by ineffective management of the resources needed to curtail the problem. In fact, WHO reports that on average countries earmark less than 2% of their healthcare budgets to promote mental health. 


To offset this trend, WHO came up with a global mental health action plan 2013-2030; all 194 member states signed on. This plan provides detailed guidelines to shore up critical areas in mental healthcare systems, such as information, research, governance, resource allocation, and service provision. 



For World Mental Health Day 2023, Ipsos ran a recent survey to document the global mental health emergency. Findings show that in 31 countries, people consider mental health to be the biggest challenge to wellbeing, even more concerning than cancer or coronavirus in years past.  In addition, mental health issues becoming more common among young people, a trend attributed to mainly to the pressures they feel around academic performance, social expectations and the pervasive use of digital technologies.  

Key takeaways

The Ipsos survey on global attitudes around mental health reveals that 78% of participants from 31 countries see mental health as just as important as physical health. Yet only 34% believe that the healthcare system in their respective countries prioritize psychological and physical wellbeing to the same degree. Specifically, in Latin America (LATAM), as few as 38% of Mexicans assert that mental health gets the same treatment as physical health, while in Argentina 88% say they’re more satisfied. Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, India, and Singapore top the list in the perception that mental and physical health are treated as equally important.   


Despite the widespread recognition of how vital mental health is, most people in the survey claim they think about their physical health more often (71%). Specifically, South Korea stood out as the only country where more than half the population says the rarely or never think about their mental health (61%). This contrasts with Brazilians and South Africans, many of whom reflect on their psychological wellbeing on a regular basis (75%). What also clearly emerges is the difference in attitudes based on age: on average, young people tend to think about their mental wellbeing more often than the rest of the population.  


Stress, according to survey findings, is a source of serious concern: 62% of the survey population confirms that stress has disrupted their day-to-day routines during the past year, a statement most often echoed by women (36%), who are more likely than men to talk about the impact of stress on their daily lives. In this sense, young people also feel the effects of stress keenly, with 42% of Generation Z stating that they’ve felt overwhelmed by stress at various times during the year.  


The Ipsos study also shines a light on mental health in the workplace. Data here show that 39% of respondents say they’ve had to take time off because of stress, and 18% affirm that they’ve done so more than once over the 12-month period. 

The global mental health challenge