Outdated perceptions and practices fuelling mental health crisis, new Economist Impact study reveals


  • International analysis of mental health provision in eight G20 countries reveals stigma, a shortage of mental health professionals and inconsistent availability and quality of care are creating barriers to vital mental health care services
  • New research highlights global and country-level insights into where action is needed alongside recommendations for measures aimed at addressing these challenges

London, Tue, 05/28/2024 - Findings from a new Economist Impact health care study launched today during the World Health Assembly reveal that people living with a mental health condition frequently struggle to access quality mental health services due to stigma, a lack of and inconsistent quality of services. 

Rethinking mental health care: harnessing new approaches”, commissioned by Boehringer Ingelheim, uncovers the significant barriers and potential solutions to meet the growing, yet alarmingly unmet, demand for mental health services worldwide.

Mental health is a critical global challenge with mental health conditions being a leading cause of disability and premature death. Almost 1bn people are currently living with a mental health condition globally. Yet an estimated 70% of those who are in desperate need do not have access to vital mental health services. 

Researchers conducted an analysis of mental health care in China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, the UK and the US - engaging over 200 mental health professionals, policy makers and patient representatives via a survey, interviews, a global steering committee and focus groups. The study identified three primary barriers prevent more people globally from getting the mental health care they need:

  • Stigma across stakeholders: While progress has been made to treat anxiety and depression, the general public, policy makers and health care professionals still hold a stigma against serious mental health conditions like schizophrenia, and as a result, do not know how to support people affected by serious mental health conditions. 
  • Supply of services not meeting demand: There are not enough mental health professionals to meet rising demand for services. More people are needed to go into the profession and more training and support is needed to retain those professionals. Half the world’s population currently live in countries where there is just one psychiatrist to serve 200,000 or more people.
  • Lack of consistent quality care: Among the countries studied there was a clear and unwarranted inconsistency in access to care, with geographic variation in services a consistent factor. Access to innovative approaches was limited by a lack of insurance coverage (requiring out-of-pocket expenditure) and logistical challenges created barriers to their use for both patients and health providers. 

This new research provides global and country-level insights into where action is needed alongside recommendations on measures aimed at addressing these challenges. These

  • Policymakers and organisations, such as mental health charities, can address stigma through campaigns to educate the general public and normalise mental health treatment-seeking, particularly for serious mental health conditions that are not as frequently discussed.
  • Universities, teaching hospitals and professional societies can enhance the mental health workforce through initial and on-going training. While policymakers can focus on creating a sustainable mental health workforce by ensuring that the profession is seen as attractive and improving retention through workforce audits.
  • Clinical guideline groups and professional societies can encourage mental health professionals to follow guidelines and best practices based on best available evidence to reduce unwarranted variations in the quality and delivery of mental health care.

The number of people affected by mental health remains higher than pre-pandemic levels, costing the global economy an estimated US$1tr each year, largely driven by lost productivity. This is expected to rise to US$6tr by 2030. 

Despite the significant individual, social and economic impact of mental health, there is also a lack of policy action and follow-through with only 75% of WHO Member States currently having standalone mental health plans and less than half having updated their mental health plans since 2017.

Elly Vaughan, Senior manager of health policy at Economist Impact, said: “We know that mental health conditions can affect all areas of an individual’s life. This, in turn, can have a real effect on a population level: the productivity, GDP and economic growth of a country and beyond. By addressing the areas of stigma, supply and quality of mental health provision, country and health care leaders can combat this growing crisis with real solutions and help those needing it most.”

Carinne Brouillon, Head of Human Pharma at Boehringer Ingelheim, said: “This analysis clearly shows that a majority of people, especially those with serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia, still aren’t able to access quality and consistent care. "With one in eight people globally facing mental health issues, governments and professional bodies must address barriers and invest in improving services to deliver better outcomes for all people on a personal, economic, and societal level. To drive this change, primary research like this is needed to highlight the mental health burden and how specific gaps in care can be addressed ahead of the 2025 UN High-Level Meeting on non-communicable diseases.”

Notes for journalists:
Visit https://impact.economist.com/perspectives/health/rethinking-mental-health-care to view the research and report.

About Economist Impact 

Economist Impact combines the rigour of a think-tank with the creativity of a media brand to engage a globally influential audience. We believe that evidence-based insights can open debate, broaden perspectives and catalyse progress. The services offered by Economist Impact previously existed within The Economist Group as separate entities, including EIU Thought Leadership, EIU Public Policy, Economist Events, El Studios and SignalNoise. 

Our track record spans 75 years across 205 countries. Along with creative storytelling, events expertise, design-thinking solutions and market-leading media products, we produce framework design, benchmarking, economic and social impact analysis, forecasting and scenario modelling, making Economist Impact's offering unique in the marketplace. Visit www.economistimpact.com for more information.

About Boehringer Ingelheim

Boehringer Ingelheim is working on breakthrough therapies that transform lives, today and for generations to come. As a leading research-driven biopharmaceutical company, the company creates value through innovation in areas of high unmet medical need. Founded in 1885 and family-owned ever since, Boehringer Ingelheim takes a long-term, sustainable perspective. More than 53,000 employees serve over 130 markets in the two business units Human Pharma and Animal Health. Learn more at www.boehringer-ingelheim.com.