Mental Health Awareness in Developing Countries

Mental Health Wellness Psychology Mind, Photo CC0 Public Domain,

Mental Health Wellness Psychology Mind, Photo CC0 Public Domain,

When it comes to building awareness about global issues, it is simple to access information about the world’s most pressing, media-enhanced problems. It’s not difficult to come across a long list detailing the burdens of the developing world… Physical health and medical shortcomings are largely common knowledge, even to the disengaged…Mother’s die regularly from child birth, treatable diseases- avoidable diseases- run rampant through communities, slowly bringing more disadvantage into the lives of the underprivileged. Health issues in the developing world are not privy to an elite group. In fact, medical teams are regularly dispersed around the world to supply people with basic medical care. As prominently as physical health is talked about within society, mental health and wellness awareness are becoming increasingly important to acknowledge.

With the United States as a model, mental health is at the forefront of social efforts. In recent years, at the expense of those who suffer from mental illness expressed in one form or another, the country has grieved school shootings, public shootings, and regular suicides of those who seem to “have it all.” Within the past month, the country lost two well-known figures, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, to suicide connected with depression and mental struggle. According to CNN’s report of the CDC’s 2018 study, suicide has increased by 25% since 1999. The study suggests many relevant factors, including economic troubles, personal conflicts, having a rural residence, and limited exposure to mental health care or communities that acknowledge its value all contribute to the increase. Simply understood, mental disorders are certainly impacting both the individual and the larger society. Therefore, it is no stretch to suggest that these concerns pose an international challenge.

The very same issues of financial struggles, limited access to healthcare professionals and understanding communities of mental strife, and of course, rural geography are all extremely relevant to developing countries. While mental wellness campaigns have become more frequent and nationally recognized around the United States, it has taken the country years to work towards de-stigmatizing mental disorder. For those countries who are socially and economically behind the United States, what happens to the people who experience the hidden diseases that develop out of the most critical of environments?

With the knowledge that poverty and rural isolation produce greater mental struggle, those impoverished peoples of the developing world are starved for advocacy about a problem many don’t even know can be blamed for their personal burdens. Just as mental health has been stigmatized in the United States, countries with ancient cultural depth have also formed their own insights and rationale about mental illness. For many cultures around the world, mental disorders have been considered a form of possession or devilish curse. Thus, mental health is strongly associated with isolating qualities. Like an issue of physical health, disease does not play favorites or avoid the rich and famous, it is a generalized concern. With its far reaching capacity, mental illness must be addressed on a larger global scale as its impact reaches deep into the negative realities of societal dysfunction. As this stigma around mental illness slowly melts from the inner workings of American society, there remains a question of how mental health is treated, recognized and perceived in countries that must prioritize the most tangible of problems.

In an effort to expose whether mental illness “exists” in the developing world, the World Health Organization (WHO) presents some findings. WHO reported that the world is “facing a global human rights emergency in mental health.” Andrew Chambers of The Guardian recorded that in countries like Zambia, Africa, mental disorder is largely unaddressed. That said, the same individuals who are uneducated in any sort of physical health maintenance are more severely uneducated in mental health issues. The terms, the diseases, the treatments, the community affected, the causes- all inter-related and important information- are not structures available to those who struggle within these impoverished communities.

Mental illness in a young child is much easier to overlook than when that same child suffers from a broken arm or a high fever. The solution is arguably quick, and the answer is material. The child can heal and carry on with his/her life. Mental illness is an intangible issue that is much harder to treat, much harder to understand, and far more difficult to confront due to its associated stigmas. All that said, it is no less of a real problem. Moreover, the dilemma of not addressing mental disorder is its extent into impacting the cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity. Several studies have been done to confirm the idea that mental disorders “further impoverish the individual.” One study on mental wellness in developing countries suggests, “People who live in the poor income groups, those who are less educated, those who are faced with acute economic difficulties (for example, consequent to unemployment), those who face debt, and those who face hardships in acquiring basic necessities (such as food) for survival, are at much greater risk to suffer mental disorders.” The same study goes on to conclude, “In turn, the disabling effects of mental disorders impair the ability of persons to search for and sustain productive employment.” Therefore, mental wellbeing is much more than meets the eye, so to speak. The study provides the evidence that, while medical teams are making a large impact in many ways, large amounts of people remain debilitated by their mental incapacities.

Mental health advocacy remains an issue stunted by the stigmas and ancient beliefs that coined their categorization. In developing countries, mental disorders are especially hard to treat. They are costly to integrate into societies and they are harder to acknowledge as the majority population is widely uninformed about the different types of disorders and how they manifest in the individual. This lack of education is only further inhibited by the population who refuse to accept mental disorder as anything more than some sacrilegious behavior or cursed punishment.  

While many developing countries remain uninformed and thousands go undiagnosed and untreated, the WHO is working to build a foundation of awareness. Uganda, as of 2015, was working to implement awareness, education, treatment, and western practices to address mental illness throughout the country. A study by Global Health Consultant, Janice Kopinak records, “There is recognition by the national government that the challenges faced in mental health services poses serious public health and development concerns.” To that effect, and despite many of their best efforts, the access and the capacity by which healthcare professionals in Uganda can make an impact still meets many obstacles. In developing countries, with Uganda as a strong representation, the education for treatment is feeble, the financial system is unsupportive, and the reach is limited. In short, mental disorders are just as prominent in countries where there is little to no awareness as it is in countries with large wellness advocacy campaigns. With time, and more concentrated efforts,  there is hope for a better future. However, for developing countries, the road ahead is long and arduous.


ELEANOR DAINKO is an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia studying Spanish and Latin American Interdisciplinary Studies. She recently finished a semester in Spain, expanding her knowledge of opportunity and culture as it exists around the world. With her passion to change the world and be a more socially conscious person, she is an aspiring entrepreneur with the hopes of attending business school over seas after college. 

Screen Shot 2018-06-30 at 4.40.32 PM.png