Know The Numbers: The Risks Of Poor Mental Health

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By: The Mindfulness Initiative | Last Updated: Mar 29, 2021

3 minute read

"Mental health is a fundamental human right for all people that requires a rights-based approach to protect the welfare of people with mental disorders and those at risk of poor mental health, and to enable an environment that promotes mental health for all." - Lancet Commission Report on Global Mental Health and Sustainable Development, 2018

Poor mental health has been found to be the greatest cause of misery in the world. It is the strongest predictor of low wellbeing. Depression alone affects some 300 million people globally and is the leading cause of disability.

According to research, about 2 in 3 of us experience poor mental health in our lifetime. About 1 in 5 at any time has clinical levels of mental illness and less than 1 in 6 has high levels of good mental health. In the larger group between the two ends of the spectrum, many will experience subclinical levels of anxiety Health, Wellbeing & Mindfulness or depression, stress, insomnia, intrusive thoughts and will struggle to cope. The pressure on mental health services around the world mean that less than one third of people with clinical levels of poor mental health receive help. The lack of effective support to sustain mental health calls for a rethink on the limitations of the currently available offer of antidepressants or psychological therapies (often after a long wait).

There are significant mental health inequalities, with 3 in 4 people at lowest income levels reporting a mental health problem, compared to 1 in 6 at highest levels. People out of work, young adults and people living alone experience higher levels of mental illness. Children in the lowest income group are also 4.5 times more likely to experience severe mental health problems than those in the highest.

Three quarters of mental illness starts before people reach their mid 20s. Depression starts earlier than in the past and research shows that its first onset occurs most commonly in the midteens. This is the context for an extensive program underway to test forms of mindfulness training that are suitable for introduction in schools, to reduce the population risks for children and young people. The Wellcome Trust-funded research trial led by Oxford, Cambridge and UCL Universities (MYRIAD), builds on more than 40 existing peer reviewed studies. It has already found that 1 in 10 children aged 11-12 have depression "caseness".

The cost of poor mental health to the global economy, and large businesses is estimated to be over $300 billion in the U.S. and £70-100 billion in the UK alone. Over the last decade the number of working days lost to ‘stress, depression and anxiety’ has increased by 24% and the number lost to serious mental illness has doubled. 3 in 5 employers report an increase in mental health problems in the last year but only half consider they are effective at supporting staff with these issues. 60% of long-term work absence is caused by poor mental health. The UK’s Chief Medical Officer suggested more should be done to prevent poor mental healthand cited mindfulness-based treatment as one of the evidence-based options.

Mental illness is also costly for the people concerned. Only 43% of people with long term poor mental health are in work (compared to 65% of people with physical disabilities) and millions around the world lose their jobs each year, despite the protections in theory offered by employment protection acts. In the UK, a study found 40% of people receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) had a mental illness as their primary impairment (60% if secondary impairments were included). Studies have shown that people with mental health problems on disability related benefits are far more likely to be sanctioned and to be left without income.

Poor mental health is particularly prevalent in the public sector, with 72% of public sector employers reporting an increase in the last year. A particular area of high concern is the level of poor mental health, stress, burnout, risk of suicide and high turnover in staff in medical and caring professions and people exposed to trauma through their work in the blue light or military services.

There are many examples of mindfulness interventions being used to address workplace mental health. A recent systematic review of MBSR and MBCT in the workplace found mindfulness reduced emotional exhaustion (a dimension of burnout), stress, psychological distress, depression, anxiety, and occupational stress together with increased personal accomplishment, self-compassion, quality of sleep, and relaxation.

About the Author: This excerpt was edited and reprinted with the permission of our friends at The Mindfulness Initiative. To learn more about their work, please visit

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