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Time for world leaders to step up on mental health: Alastair Campbell backs ODI research

Written by Jessica Mackenzie

Press Release

Former Downing Street aide and mental health campaigner Alastair Campbell is backing new research, published during Mental Health Awareness Week, on improving mental health in the world’s poorest countries.

For the first time international anti-poverty goals agreed by the United Nations in New York last year included a target for tackling mental health.

However, research by the Overseas Development Institute, the UK’s leading think-tank on international development matters, details how less than 1% of all financial aid for health is spent on mental health in developing countries.

That means more money is spent on takeaway coffee in the UK in a single week than is spent on development assistance for mental health in poor countries in an entire year.

Alastair Campbell, ambassador for the UK mental health campaign Time to Change, said: ‘We rightly complain at the lack of priority and funding given to mental health in the UK, but the reality is in many parts of the world, it is much, much worse.

‘The shocking lack of funding for mental health services in both the developed and developing world is an injustice to the millions of people who struggle every day without the support and treatment that would help them to lead healthy, productive lives.

‘It is no surprise that people living with mental health problems are often the most vulnerable in society, yet more than four out of five people with severe mental disorders in poor countries receive no treatment whatsoever.

‘The moral case for world leaders to step up and tackle this is clear. But so is the economic case. If they fail to understand both the scale of the problem, and the leadership required to address it, they will be on the wrong side of history. The progress we are making is painfully slow.'

Report author Jessica Mackenzie, Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute, said: ‘Hundreds of millions of people across the world are living with mental health disorders, yet there remains a severe lack of funding for services.

‘Our research shows while it is very difficult to track exactly how much is being spent on mental health, what we do know is that it is nowhere near enough. Economists estimate that mental illness is costing the global economy a 50 million years of work annually. We cannot continue to ignore this.

‘Change needs to happen now if we are to achieve the ambitious targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals and to stop millions being left behind due to a shortfall of mental health services.’

The report, ‘Mental health funding and the SDGs: What not and who pays’, concludes the global goal on mental health will only be achieved if:

  • Governments in both rich and poor countries prioritise investment in mental health
  • Existing funders better track mental health spending so the funding shortfall can be fully understood and addressed
  • More organisations and groups fund and provide mental health services

Alastair Campbell is speaking at an ODI event to launch the report on Thursday May 19.


Notes to editors

  • Mental Health Awareness Week is run by the Mental Health Foundation and takes place from May 16 to May 22, 2016
  • World leaders included metal health and substance abuse a priority in the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted at the United National General Assembly in New York in September 2015
  • In a 2015 study, Gilbert et al found development assistance to mental health accounted for less than 1% of total health spending
  • ODI analysts compared the above figure to the estimated weekly turnover of UK coffee shops in 2012, US$161.3 million, which is based on date from Allegra Strategies (2012)
  • Approximately 76% to 85% of people with severe mental disorders receive no treatment in LICs and MICs, according to the World Health Organisation’s 2013 Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020

For more information, or to arrange an interview with the report author, please contact James Rush on 07808 791265 or email [email protected]