Deconstructing the mental health crisis: 5 uneasy pieces

Document Type



Brain and Mind Institute


One in 3 of us will experience mental illness in our lifetime, and yet the current treatments as well as the development of new strategies haven’t been overly encouraging.1 In economically developed countries mental illness exerts an enormous social and economic toll; in Canada, for instance, more than 500 000 people will not go to work daily owing to mental illness.2 The problem, of course, is not restricted to developed countries; depression more than any other condition is responsible for “years lost” to disability worldwide. Indeed, the burden attributable to mental illness exceeds that of diabetes, cancer and pulmonary diseases combined. At the World Economic Forum held in Switzerland, mental disorders emerged as the single largest health cost, with global projections increasing to $6 trillion annually by 2030.3 An important feature of mental illness is that it tends to “travel” in the company of other noncommunicable conditions (e.g., heart disease, dementia, diabetes), often sharing some underlying mechanisms (e.g., elevated inflammatory activity) and sometimes mutually affecting one another.4 The co-occurrence of these conditions make the toll of mental illness still more significant. Norman Lamb, Minister of State for Care and Support in the United Kingdom, has maintained for some time that there has been a gross imbalance in attention to mental versus physical illness, and when budgets need to be cut, mental illness invariably seems to lose out, and the result has been disastrous.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University


Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience