SYRACUSE, New York — Those who are living in poverty around the world today face enormous challenges, and these challenges can have adverse effects on mental health. There is a new focus in the international development community to address mental health outcomes, especially among children living in poverty. USAID is positioned to take a leading role in this movement, and new proposed bipartisan legislation ensures it. The Mental Health in International Development and Humanitarian Settings (MINDS) Act calls for foreign assistance to improve global mental health.
How Does Living in Poverty Impact Mental Health?
Research indicates that poverty is linked with poor mental health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), those living below the poverty line are twice as likely to have common mental disorders than those with higher incomes. This is especially significant when considering connections between conflict and poverty around the world. In addition, WHO finds that one-fifth of people living in an environment with conflict suffer from a mental disorder. Around the world, two-thirds of all children are living in a nation impacted by violence and conflict. These environments are doing harm to children’s long-term mental health outcomes.
What is the Current State of Mental Health Outcomes?
Even though millions of people living in poverty struggle with mental health around the world, there is not adequate support. Mental health funding from the international development community has never reached 1% of the funding levels for physical health. Additionally, youth mental health funds have never risen above 0.15% of health-related funds for international development. According to the non-governmental organization Save The Children, “75% of people with mental health conditions in low- and medium-income countries receive no treatment.”
The need for more support has never been stronger than in the wake of COVID-19. Job losses, lockdowns and supply shortages worsened pre-existing mental health issues and increased the risk of new mental illnesses. Michael Nyenhuis, president and CEO of UNICEF U.S., reported that COVID-19 has revealed how severe the mental health crisis is worldwide. Nyenhuis also stressed the “need for immediate investment in accessible services and support for children and their caregivers in the U.S. and around the world.”
How Does the MINDS Act Improve Mental Health Outcomes?
New legislation introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate aims to aid the international mental health crisis. Specifically, the proposed legislation establishes a working group within USAID to shepherd mental health and psychological support programming across regional bureaus and missions. The MINDS Act is the first piece of U.S. legislation that seeks to address mental health issues with foreign assistance.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL-22) has noted the significance of the bill. Deutch reported, “We need a government-wide mental health and psychosocial support strategy that recognizes the importance of mental health in U.S. foreign assistance.” Additionally, Deutch stated that the MINDS Act will assist in meeting severe mental health needs, which is especially vital during COVID-19 recovery. Finally, Deutch urged the importance to “ensure every U.S. foreign assistance dollar is going toward impactful humanitarian aid and sustainable development.”
More than one billion people around the world suffer from a mental health or substance use disorder. Therefore, it is imperative that foreign assistance is used to help improve mental health outcomes. Fighting poverty and supporting mental health go hand-in-hand. It is encouraging to see the MINDS Act recognize that connection.
– Alex Muckenfuss