Increased public spending on training and recruiting mental healthcare professionals, while improving access to digital mental health services, is needed globally to meet rising demand for qualified care.
Governments have a role to play in building "mentally resilient societies" by implementing healthcare policies and initiatives that promote and sustain wellbeing, according to a research paper by global consultancy PwC.
The study emphasised that wellbeing straddles the traditional "hard boundaries" that are no longer recognised by medical professionals. It also urged policymakers to consider that in mental health, as in all health care, prevention is better than the treatment of illness — both for patients and for budgets.
"Wellbeing is integral to the health of society, and governments need to take action on behalf of their citizens. Although we are seeing some great examples of this globally, ultimately stigmas and misinformation continue to exist, and the provision of mental health services falls far short of what is needed," said Hamish Clark, Middle East health industries partner and Middle East chief wellness officer at PwC.
"Governments need to ... invest in the wellbeing of their citizens earlier on, collecting and processing more and better data on child and adolescent mental health care and support to give them the best possible chance in life."
The paper comes amid increasingly loud calls for better regulated, easily accessible and affordable mental healthcare services globally, particularly after the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Governments are increasingly focusing on wellbeing as a national priority, amid greater awareness of the toll that poor mental health takes on individuals, healthcare systems, productivity and the economy.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that poor mental health costs the global economy $1 trillion a year in lost productivity. In 2022, the WHO estimated that about one in eight people globally were living with a mental disorder.
In 2019, the UAE unveiled its National Wellbeing Strategy 2031, a comprehensive 10-year plan aimed at further improving the quality of life, through about 90 projects to be implemented by government bodies. Among its goals is an improvement of the population's physical and mental health, social relationships, education and the efficiency of government services.
The PwC paper, titled “The Future of Wellbeing: Next Policy Steps for Building Mentally Resilient Societies”, was released during the World Government Summit in Dubai. It explores measures and initiatives governments can develop to deliver sustained results in mental health care and wellbeing.
It recommends increasing government funding for the recruitment, clinical training and deployment of mental health professionals to meet the increasing gap between rising demand for qualified clinicians and insufficient supply.
Broader access to digital mental health care and mental wellbeing products and services is also needed in developed and developing countries, PwC said.
"The case for broadening access has already been demonstrated by the first wave of the Covid-19 crisis, when digital technologies helped maintain and even improve mental health provision during a period of extreme stress and anxiety for many citizens," it said.
However, governments need to maintain strict regulation and oversight of the rising global digital therapeutics industry, it added.
The report also highlighted the gap between rising levels of concern globally about the mental health of young people and the quantity and quality of data in this field.
"Accurate, timely knowledge about the mental health and wellbeing of children and adolescents in low and middle-income countries is generally patchy at best, even though they are often the section of the population that is most vulnerable to the impact of war, disease and natural disasters," PwC said.
Combining new digital technologies and data analytics with learning from best practices in other countries can help governments to develop a body of evidence about child and adolescent mental health, the report said. This will in turn lead to better-informed policies and programmes, it concluded.