The world faces a growing and unprecedented mental health crisis; a crisis that national governments and the international community as a whole has so far largely failed to address effectively. Mental health conditions affect millions of people across the globe with one in four people estimated to suffer from a mental, neurological or substance abuse disorder at some point in their lives. (WHO)

Depression alone affects over 300 million people and according to the World Health Organization is now the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. (WHO)

Put simply, mental illness is a killer. Death by suicide is a global phenomenon, almost one million people die due to suicide every year, amounting to one person every forty seconds. In Britain, suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 50 (The Guardian).

Yet mental illness is often an invisible illness that has for too long been overlooked and pushed into the shadows. Mental health disorders continue to be shrouded in shame, stigma, taboo and ignorance. In many parts of the world, particularly in poorer nations, those afflicted by mental disorders often face abuse and discrimination, whilst being deprived of basic access and provision to services and those mental health services that do exist are often woefully inadequate due to lack of resources and funding. A report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva earlier this year by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right to health Dainius Pūras’s found that due to decades of neglecting mental health within health systems around the world – a significant global paradigm shift and a ‘revolution in mental health care’ was now required (UN).

Mental illness may be hard to see, but its impact is very visible. The burden of mental health disorders grows year on year inflicting major health, social, and economic consequences on every community, society and nation on the planet. In 2010, the World Economic Forum estimated that the global cost of mental illness was around $2.5 trillion; by 2030, that figure is forecasted to rise to over $6.0 trillion.

There has been considerable progress over the past decade or so in bringing mental health from the margins of the global health agenda into its centre. It is vitally important to continue to raise public awareness, challenge the stigma surrounding mental illness and inspire political will and commitment to tackle this complex and severe global health crisis. Over the next week IEE will circulate articles, reports and talks from a multitude of different global perspectives with the aim of informing people about the present challenge we face.

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