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Mental, neurological and substance use disorders (MNS) are common, highly disabling, and associated with significant premature mortality. The human, social and economic toll imposed by lack of attention to MNS across the world is considerable. It is estimated that at least 10 percent of the world’s population is affected, and that 20 percent of children and adolescents suffer from some type of mental disorder.

In countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence, the number of people afflicted by mental ill-health rises to approximately one in five people (22.1%). And some segments of the population are disproportionality affected by MNS: women and children who have experienced violence, soldiers returning from war, migrants and refugees displaced by conflict, the poor, and other vulnerable groups in society such as the unemployed.

Impact on social and economic well-being

In fact, according to data by the World Health Organization (WHO), mental illness accounts for 30 percent of the non-fatal disease burden and 10 percent of the overall disease burden worldwide, including death and disability. The impact of MNS on the social and economic well-being of individuals, families, and societies is large, underestimated, and often ignored.

If untreated, MNS affect people’s health and also undermines their human capital development: unlike many of the high-burden diseases, MNS have an early age of onset—often in childhood or early adolescence—and are highly prevalent in the working-age population. As a result, the global economy loses about $1 trillion every year in productivity due to depression and anxiety. Mental, neurological and substance use disorders are estimated to contribute to economic output losses of $2.5-8.5 trillion globally, a figure which is projected to nearly double by 2030.

How the World Bank helps

To highlight the scale of these issues and the gains that can be achieved when addressing them, the World Bank Group, in partnership with WHO and other national and international organizations, is supporting efforts to put mental health at the center of global health and development agendas. Global events such as Moving the Needle: Mental Health Stories from Around the World have aimed to increase awareness about mental health as a development challenge and the associated economic and social costs of inaction. They have also offered a platform to debate the economic and social benefits of investing in mental health and identify ways for stakeholders to act across sectors. 

One key factor hindering progress in addressing mental illness is the structural imbalance between countries’ lack of health service capacity and the rising number of individuals requiring treatment. In low- and middle-income countries, more than three quarters of people with a severe mental disorder do not receive treatment for their illness.

A World Bank working paper on Harnessing Technology to Address the Global Mental Health Crisis explores how technologies such as virtual therapies and online learning can help in responding to mental health challenges in some communities and contexts. As more countries increase their use of communication technology, many more individuals may benefit from enhanced access to and better quality of mental health treatments through traditional and digitally enabled services.

Strong mental health builds human capital

Mental health, as with physical health, contributes to human capital accumulation and consequently to the wealth of nations. To fully realize the goal of universal health coverage and improve human capital outcomes across the world, it is critical to ensure that mental health programs are integrated with service delivery at the community level and covered under financial protection arrangements.

In addition, health and policy leaders need to identify and use entry points across sectors to help tackle the social and economic factors that contribute to the onset and perpetuation of mental health disorders.


In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, for example, over 100 small business entrepreneurs received five weeks of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy training. The intervention not only helped significantly reduce the intensity and prevalence of depression and anxiety symptoms among participants but also contributed to higher levels of well-being compared with a group of entrepreneurs that did not receive training.

In Afghanistan, more than 2.2 million people received mental health services in 2018 across the country, compared to around half a million people in 2009. In Yemen, the World Bank’s emergency health programs offered mental health services and trauma care throughout the country. And in the Horn of Africa, the World Bank supported counseling for Somali women and children impacted by gender-based and sexual violence as part of a primary care package for those living in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Last Updated: Apr 02, 2020


Meeting Note: Healthy Brain Bonds: Is This a Feasible option? World Bank Group Headquarters, Washington DC February 28, 2018

Global Mental Health Conference, National Institute of Mental Health/Grand Challenges Canada, May 1-2 2018: The Quest for Global Mental Health Parity: A Tool for Solving the Grand Challenges in Global Mental

Out of the Shadows: Making Mental Health a Global Development Priority, April 2016

Second Mental Health Conference, November 3, 2016: Out of the Shadows: Making Mental Health a Global Priority

International Day of Persons with Disabilities December, 2015: Shining a light on mental illness: An invisible disability



Making Mental Health a Global Development Priority



The Lancet Commission on global mental health and sustainable development

WHO Guidelines: Management of physical health conditions in adults with severe mental disorders

2017 Mental Health Atlas

Amnesty International: South Sudan: "Our hearts have gone dark": The mental health impact of South Sudan's conflict

Nature: The mental-health crisis among migrants

Global Mental Health & Psychiatry Newsletter of the Career, Leadership and Mentorship

Grand Challenges Canada: Mental health funding and the SDGs What now and who pays?

How to Fix a Broken Mental-Health System by Norman Ornstein, The Atlantic

PAHO: World Health Day: Mental Health April 2017

Mental Health, Well-being and Disability: A New Global Priority Key United Nations Resolutions and Documents

World Health Organization (WHO): Mental health topics

WHO: Mental health fact sheets

WHO: Mental health videos

World Economic Forum: Seven actions towards a mentally healthy organization

York University: Mental Health: Pasts, Current Trends and Futures




Sheila Dutta

Senior Health Specialist, 

Health, Nutrition and Population Global Practice (HNP GP)
World Bank Group
Tel: 202-473-8390

Last Updated: Apr 02, 2020