One in four people around the world struggling with mental health, study finds

UK came bottom in a poll of more than 400,000 people in 64 countries, which showed no recovery from significant declines fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic

The UK propped up a global mental health well-being league table, against the backdrop of strikes and a cost-of-living crisis. Photo: AFP
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More than a quarter of people across the world struggled with their mental health last year, a study has found.

The Mental State of the World Report 2022 — which polled more than 400,000 people in 64 countries — said there had been “no recovery” from a steep decline in well-being prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The research revealed a widespread failure to bolster mental health, with countries that performed best in the survey merely “managing”.

Respondents were given a score out of 300. Zero to 100 was considered to be distressed or struggling. Within that range, those scoring 50 to 100 were deemed to be managing. Those above 100 were succeeding, while a score of 150 to 200 meant they were thriving.

Countries were then given a score based on the average mental health of their population and other factors such as their health care provision.

How did different countries fare?

The results were published by Sapien Labs, a US non-profit group which tracks mental health around the world. No country reached 100 points, with Tanzania top of the league with a score of 93.6.

The UK – which has been beset by political upheaval, frequent strikes and a cost-of-living crisis – was bottom of the rankings, on 46.2.

The UAE scored 70, with 23.3 per cent of respondents struggling or distressed, up 4 percentage points since 2021. “I think what we’re seeing is the latent response to the pandemic in terms of its impact on mental health, which has not been fully realised”, said Dr Yaseen Aslam, medical director at the Psychiatry and Therapy Centre in Dubai.

“We’re still only beginning to discover the true psychological and emotional impact of the pandemic and also the effects of the lockdown. The lack of availability of services to treat people with mental health [problems] had a very, very dramatic and significant impact.”

The study found 27 per cent of those polled struggled with their mental health. People in Latin America were doing the best, with the UK, South Africa and Brazil at the bottom of the list. “The UK in particular, is very much dependent upon the National Health Service and it’s quite clear that the National Health Service is unfortunately struggling significantly”, said Dr Aslam.

“There’s a huge exodus of highly qualified professionals, nursing staff and doctors in all specialities. People are unable to access primary care.”

Fractured family unit affects well-being

The study found young adults are up to four times as likely to struggle with their mental health as their parents’ generation. It said the breakdown of family relationships leaves the young vulnerable to mental health problems.

Young people were also three times as likely to have poor adult family relationships compared to their parents’ generation and twice as likely to lack friends who would help them in times of need.

Dr Adrian Harrison, a child and educational psychologist at Kids First Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi, said having support networks in place was crucial.

“Good quality relationships and friendships are integral to preserving our well-being”, he added.

Dr Aslam said that young people tended to place less emphasis on such bonds, leading them to become more isolated.

“There’s a lesser emphasis among younger generations on the importance of family and friendships, in terms of the positive effects of relationships”, he said.

“In the younger generation they’re becoming more and more detached and isolated in their behaviour. They’re more comfortable engaging in solitary activities in front of a screen.

“I think such is the importance that screen time and devices and social media internet use take in the life of young children these days, that the importance of relationships has been lost and eroded.

“Because they communicate through applications and various media on the device, they’re losing the importance and the benefits of social communication, especially when it comes to family members.”

Dr Aslam said a decline in kindness and family connections and the impact of the internet on relationships could be seen in the way young children communicate with each other.

Dr Aslam said that young people tended to place less emphasis on such bonds, leading them to become more isolated.

“There’s a lesser emphasis among younger generations on the importance of family and friendships, in terms of the positive effects of relationships”, he said.

“In the younger generation they’re becoming more and more detached and isolated in their behaviour. They’re more comfortable engaging in solitary activities in front of a screen.

“I think such is the importance that screen time and devices and social media internet use take in the life of young children these days, that the importance of relationships has been lost and eroded.

“Because they communicate through applications and various media on the device, they’re losing the importance and the benefits of social communication, especially when it comes to family members.”

Dr Aslam said a decline in kindness and family connections and the impact of the internet on relationships could be seen in the way young children communicate with each other.

Updated: March 01, 2023, 11:45 AM