Our world is in the grip of a mental health crisis – here’s what we can do to help

(Matthew Ball, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Sean Fleming, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • A 2020 survey reveals that more than a quarter of respondents were found to be at risk of clinical-level mental health problems.
  • Of eight countries surveyed, Singapore ranked highest for mental health wellbeing.
  • While the UK and South Africa ranked the lowest.
  • Young people and those who are nonbinary/third gender are struggling the most.
  • The report stresses the importance of sleep, exercise and socializing to boost mental health.

Young people should be taught the importance of sleep, exercise and socializing to tackle the global mental health crisis heightened by the pandemic.

Steps also need to be taken to counterbalance the effects of policies that have led to periods of social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly where young people are concerned.

These are some of the findings from Sapien Labs’ inaugural Mental State of the World Report 2020, which has looked at mental wellbeing trends across eight English speaking countries. While echoing many of the calls for people to take good care of themselves, the report also points to the role of social and economic policy.

The report is part of Sapien Labs’ Mental Health Million project, which aims to capture a view of mental health wellbeing around the world. Its findings are based on an online assessment called the Mental Health Quotient (MHQ), which has been completed by around 49,000 people over the course of nine months. Although its focus has been on eight English-speaking countries, Sapien Labs says it has captured responses from people in 130 countries.

A far-reaching global challenge

People from Singapore were found to have the highest mental wellbeing score, the report says, with an average MHQ of 94. The US was second with an MHQ of 72. By comparison, the lowest scoring countries were the UK (MHQ 54) and South Africa (MHQ 56).

a graph showing the average mental health score from 2020 and comparison to 2019
Mental health has declined in 2020. Image: Mental State of the World Report 2020

Taken as an average, more than a quarter (26%) of all respondents were found to have, or be at risk of, clinical-level mental health problems. Echoing the ranking of countries, those in Singapore were least at risk. Those most at risk were in the UK (31.5%), and also in New Zealand (30%).

Adults living in Canada and Australia were the most likely to seek out professional help, the least likely are those in India.

But it is the young who are bearing the heaviest burden, according to the report.

Generational divide

The average MHQ score for adults aged 65 and over is 115. As age decreases, so do the MHQ scores. The 18-24 cohort have an average score of only 29 by comparison. More worrying, while 6% of the 65 and over group fall into the clinical/at risk category, for the 18-24 year-olds the equivalent is 44%.

At the other end of the spectrum, 70% of those aged 65+ were judged to be in the Succeeding or Thriving categories, while only 17% of the 18-24 group were. “The magnitude of difference along such an aggregate measure must sound a loud alarm,” the report states.

The generational divide in mental wellbeing was found in all eight of the countries surveyed. The size of the gap was considered, “large everywhere, it was greatest for respondents living in Singapore, and smallest for those living in Canada,” according to the report.

a graph showing that mental health is progressively worse for each younger generation in 2020 compared to 19
Age is a factor in the pandemic-related mental health decline. Image: Mental State of the World Report 2020

Another cohort that recorded lower mental wellbeing scores were nonbinary/third gender respondents. “On average, MHQ scores were 50 MHQ points lower for nonbinary/third gender respondents (average MHQ of 22) compared to male respondents (average MHQ of 71),” the report says. Suicidal thoughts – including intentions – plus a sense of being detached from reality, were cited as commonly felt among this group of respondents.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

One in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030.

Mental ill-health is the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people aged 10–24 years, contributing up to 45% of the overall burden of disease in this age-group. Yet globally, young people have the worst access to youth mental health care within the lifespan and across all the stages of illness (particularly during the early stages).

In response, the Forum has launched a global dialogue series to discuss the ideas, tools and architecture in which public and private stakeholders can build an ecosystem for health promotion and disease management on mental health.

One of the current key priorities is to support global efforts toward mental health outcomes – promoting key recommendations toward achieving the global targets on mental health, such as the WHO Knowledge-Action-Portal and the Countdown Global Mental Health

Read more about the work of our Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, and contact us to get involved.

The long shadow of COVID-19

The pandemic has been one of the major drivers in the overall decline of mental wellbeing and in the exacerbation of the age-related differences, the report continues: “This finding tracks with other reports that the consequences of the pandemic are having a disproportionate impact on the young,” despite the fact that this group is at the least risk from COVID-19 itself.

Of the respondents, 3.9% reported having had COVID-19, with 0.7% having been severely ill. However, 57% said they had experienced negative health, financial and/or social consequences of the pandemic. Those worse affected were people who were unable to get medical help for existing health conditions due to the pandemic and those who lost a close family member to the virus.

Struggling to afford basic necessities during the pandemic was cited as a problem by 1.4% of respondents to the survey. Their MHQ scores were 55 points lower than those who experienced no such financial setbacks.

a graph showing mental health scores for adults impacted by each of the various health, financial and other factors
People’s individual challenges affected their mental health scores. Image: Mental State of the World Report 2020

Among its recommendations for addressing the current crisis – and any potential future repetitions – the report urges a combination of personal responsibility along with strategic interventions from policy-makers and government.

Sleep, social interaction and exercise substantially impact all facets of mental function.

Respondents who said they usually got enough sleep, social interaction and physical exercise had higher MHQ scores than those who did not. The importance of these activities needs to be included in the range of topics discussed in schools and colleges, according to the report, as a way of delivering education on important wellbeing skills.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

EU Budget 2020 conciliation talks suspended

Eurozone’s north-south growth gap to become structural

Air pollution: Most EU Member States not on track to reduce air pollution and its related health impacts by 2030

New Disability Inclusion Strategy is ‘transformative change we need’, says Guterres

These are the countries best prepared for the fight against cancer

Prospect of lasting peace ‘fading by the day’ in Gaza and West Bank, senior UN envoy warns

Security Council approves ‘historic’ political Haiti mission, ending UN peacekeeping role in the country

Learning lessons from across Europe – the hidden costs of COVID-19 on lung cancer

Why ‘video call fatigue’ might be making you tired during lockdown – and how to beat it

What is tuberculosis and why are deaths rising?

Mergers: Commission waives the commitments made by Takeda to obtain clearance of its acquisition of Shire

10 ways COVID-19 could reshape offices

The US calls off globalization, targets Germany. Paris offer to Berlin comes at a cost

4 lessons on human cooperation from the fight against Ebola

Collaboration and connectivity at ITU Telecom World 2019

‘Revved up climate action’ needed to counter ‘prolonged’ and deadly storms like Cyclone Idai: Guterres

Here’s how data can shine a light on financial crime

What does artificial intelligence do in medicine?

Parliament to ask for the suspension of EU-US deal on bank data

Progress made at COP25, despite lack of agreement to increase climate ambition

UN ‘prioritizing needs’, ramping up aid, as Hurricane Dorian continues to batter the Bahamas

Countries must invest at least 1% more of GDP on primary healthcare to eliminate glaring coverage gaps

Brexit: the time has come for the UK to clarify its position

Starbucks and FIAT again under Commission’s microscope: is Europe ready to kick multinationals out of the house?

Why we need a blockchain bill of rights

India vs Virus: voices from the COVID front line

How the tech sector can power the shift to a sustainable economy

UN chief welcomes G20 commitment to fight climate change

Are we at risk of a financial crisis? Our new report takes a look

Antitrust: Commission sends Statement of Objections to Conserve Italia for participation in canned vegetables cartel

iSting: a reader’s thoughts on the UN Environment Assembly 2017

With 5 billion set to miss out on health care, UN holds landmark summit to boost coverage

Antitrust: Commission fines Google €1.49 billion for abusive practices in online advertising

Essential services on verge of shutdown in Gaza as emergency fuel set to run out

Here are three technology trends changing the way you travel

The EU Parliament sidesteps the real issues about banks, while the US target the Eurozone lenders

5 crises that could worsen under COVID-19

How can we make enough vaccine for 2 billion people?

China, forever new adventures

Quality Internships: Towards a Toolkit for Employers

Who cares about the unity of Ukraine?

YouTube stars get creative at UN, to promote tolerance

These Dutch tomatoes can teach the world about sustainable agriculture

daniela-runchi-jade-president__

A Sting Exclusive: “Education in Europe, fostering skills development inside and outside the school system”

How the mobile industry is driving climate progress on the scale of a major economy

EU defence gets a boost as the European Defence Fund becomes a reality

How the Belt and Road Initiative could support an ageing population

Better understanding the psychological impact caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic

Our poisonous air is harming our children’s brains

EU legislation protecting home buyers approved in Parliament

Does the West play the Syrian game in Egypt?

Normal reactions to the abnormality of the pandemic

How climate change sparks innovation for fragile communities

Thai cave boys spared thundershowers, highlighting extreme climate disruption: UN weather agency

Batteries included: how better storage can transform renewable energy

Eurozone stagnates after exporting its recession to trading partners

Why the euro may rise with the dollar even at lower interest rates

New Eurobarometer survey shows: The majority of Europeans think the EU should propose additional measures to address air quality problems

We must stop turning a blind eye to the world’s health crises

Living in a pandemic: what are the effects of COVID-19 on the mental health of the youth?

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: