World's richest countries are not providing adequate mental health care during pandemic, OECD says

Young people, the unemployed and those facing financial insecurity have faced a sharp rise in mental health issues during the crisis

A woman runs past a mental health mural on the Falls road in west Belfast. (Photo by Peter Morrison/PA Images via Getty Images)
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Governments of the world's richest nations are falling short in tackling key mental healthcare challenges that have spiked during the pandemic and weighed heavily on economies worldwide, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said.

The Paris-based organisation released its first report benchmarking the performance of its 38 member states in addressing the social and economic costs of mental health difficulties.

OECD countries have not significantly increased government spending on mental health over the past decade, the report said. While there are clear efforts to increase access to mental health services, particularly with digital technologies such as tele-health services, 67 per cent of people who need mental health support still find it difficult to secure access due to finances, wait times or transport.

Even in OECD countries that have the lowest rates of unmet needs for mental health care, 30 per cent or more of the population report some unfulfilled demand for mental health services.

Even before the onset of the Covid-19 crisis and prolonged lockdowns, an estimated one in two people experienced a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime and one in five were living with a mental health issue at any given time. Since the start of the pandemic, levels of mental distress have increased, with the prevalence of anxiety and depression doubling in some countries, the report shows.

The failure by governments to cope with the mental health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic also has broader economic repercussions.

Mental ill-health drives economic costs equal to more than 4.2 per cent of gross domestic product, some of which are the direct costs of treatment. But more than a third are indirect costs related to lower employment rates and reduced productivity, the OECD estimates.

Young people, unemployed individuals and those experiencing financial difficulties are facing a sharp increase in mental distress during the pandemic, the report showed.

People with serious mental health conditions still have a much lower life expectancy than the population average, the report said. In all countries people with a mental health issue were less likely to be employed and had a lower level of education than those without mental distress.

The OECD urged countries to urgently increase investment and quality of care in order to reduce the high social and economic costs of mental health problems.