Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Student Reflections on Topics Covered in our Class

Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

Global Mental Health: Recommendations for Action

March 2, 2021 · No Comments · Mental Health, Uncategorized

Mental health illness is a largely neglected and invisible illness. Its symptoms are not detected by general blood tests and it is not communicable. Mental illness does not get passed on from one person to another, yet its impact is global, specifically in the poor and disadvantaged communities. The World Health Organization is urging governments and other international organizations to provide resources for mental illness. While these issues tend to be prevalent in developing countries, mental health problems also affect industrial nations. In the United States, the Center for Disease Control and many other public health organizations aid individuals with mental health issues. Unfortunately, the stigma and shame that follows mental health deters individuals to seek assistance.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 75 percent of people that suffer with a serious mental health disorder in the developing world received no treatment whatsoever in the past 12 months. In many of these developing countries, basic health systems and health quality are not met which further deepens the issues across the populace. While technologic improvements to these areas and their health clinics would assist their health needs greatly, mental health is not costly as it is dependent heavily on trained health workers rather then expensive technology. The World Health Organization states that mental illness is treatable and curable treatment is affordable even for international governments.
There are many types of mental illness. The most common disorders are anxiety, mood, psychotic, eating, impulse control and addiction, personality, and post-traumatic stress. Mental health has many factors that determine the level of that individual at any given time. These factors are primarily social, biological, or psychological and are generally associated with social changes, stressful work conditions, gender discrimination, and unhealthy lifestyle choices.

In my opinion, these disorders are very common with various countries’ youth and adolescents due to their poor mental health levels that is based on their background. These children are exposed to poor environmental and community factors that increase their risk of developing mental illness. Specifically, suicide rates among the youth across the world have been increasing in both developed and developing countries. In the Community Mental Health slides, the World Health Organization stated that every year almost one million people die from suicide and that the “global” mortality rate is one death every 40 seconds. Due to the lack of economic opportunity and resources, these rates are much higher in underdeveloped countries, but even in the United States, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24.

In the United States, the Center for Disease Control implemented the Youth Risk Behavior surveillance system in 1990 to monitor certain health behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death, disability and social problems among youth. It monitors behaviors such as alcohol/drug use, unhealthy dietary behaviors, tobacco use, and physical activity. Mental health problems go hand in hand with increased behavioral risks, especially in adolescents. According to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary and Trends Report, more than one in three high school students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019, which is a 40 percent increase since 2009. These feelings were common among lesbian, gay or bisexual students and female students. Within each group in the report, increases varied, but in 2019 alone, one in six youth reported making a suicide plan.

In 2019, I was able to intern with the Center of Disease Control’s Division of Violence Prevention. Within this division, I specifically worked with their surveillance branch to code data for the School-Associated Violent Death Surveillance System. This system maintained over 20 years of quantitative and qualitative data on homicides, suicides and legal intervention deaths that had occurred in and around schools in the United States. It was very emotionally taxing due to the content in the area, but I worked to learn about the adverse childhood experiences, youth violence, dating and intimate partner violence, sexual violence and suicide. It was eye opening to say the least, and after comparing/analyzing data with the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, it was clear how important the environment, community, and family are in good adolescent mental health. As simple as it is, connectedness is an important protective factor that can reduce the likelihood of poor mental health. Safe and supportive school environments, parent engagement, and community connectedness are protective factors that help reduce mental health and other high-risk behaviors.

I believe the COVID-19 pandemic has increased mental health problems across the United States and the world. The pandemic has affected all areas of “normal” life in developed and underdeveloped countries. In developed countries, such as the United States, the isolation, loss of income, and fear are triggering unbeknownst mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones. There have been increased levels of alcohol and drug use across the country which are health risk behaviors. I personally know many individuals who have reported that they were depressed or increasingly anxious during this time. Many young adults have lost their income or employment, or transitioned to remote work that increase feelings of loneliness etc. In underdeveloped countries where the stress is already extraordinary, the pandemic has increased populations to loss of housing and food. For many individuals that are living in poverty, it is not possible to follow any public health guidelines to protect themselves against the virus. There may not be any way to social distance or to wash their hands with soap and clean water, which mixed with feelings of helplessness and despair, can increase existing mental health conditions or trigger new conditions. I believe many countries are already overwhelmed with the need of immediate mental health support, and many of these areas do not have any mental health professionals or regular health services for that matter.

Developed countries must deal with the stigma of mental illness while for many underdeveloped countries, the population do not have access to basic health services as is. Often, people choose to not seek help due to concern about being treated differently or fear of losing their social status. Public and self-stigma refer to negative or discriminatory attitudes that people have with mental illness or about their own condition. Institutional stigma involves policies with governments that intentionally or unintentionally limit opportunities for people with mental illness. I believe this is the case with underdeveloped countries across the world. There is little to no funding for mental health research or basic health care services. Mental health affects how we think, feel, and act. Mental health can change over time depending on many factors, which means that underlying problems can be corrected.




Community mental health. (n.d.). Retrieved March 01, 2021, from

Diagnosed anxiety and depression among u.s. children. (2021, January 26). Retrieved March 01, 2021, from

Protective factors. (2018, August 07). Retrieved March 01, 2021, from

Stigma and discrimination. (n.d.). Retrieved March 01, 2021, from


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