Mental health funding (a brief review)

In the following brief review, we will take a look at the issue of mental health funding, some of its modalities and the importance it has for mental health in general. 

Mental health funding

Mental health funding refers to the way in which, at the global level, expenditures are financed to meet the mental health needs of the population. This includes direct care, investment in promotion and prevention, and investment in research, among others that are of great relevance. 

The following will be an overview since it would be possible to find very different figures if we make a comparison between countries. Each country, although we should be aligned according to what is published by the World Health Organization (WHO), has different levels of spending on mental health, and as we will see this has various implications. 

Mental health funding: some general data 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the world’s leading organization dedicated to improving the health conditions of the general population, although progress has been made in the field of mental health work, there is still a general problem that does not allow the situation to improve significantly. 

This is because, among other things, there is a shortage of human talent working in mental health or any other type of health worker who has training in the area of mental health. The WHO also states that there continues to be a lack of investment in mental health services that are provided in a comprehensive manner in communities. 

This can have a number of consequences, including the fact that when people have such needs, they are not adequately cared for, and their illnesses can worsen and significantly deteriorate the quality of life. 

The WHO states that we are now realizing the implications of poor investment in mental health at various levels. Thus, it mentions that there are known to be negative economic, health and social consequences around this lack of financial attention to a group of needs that have been there for a long time and continue to do so. 

Mental health funding: what is the overall situation? 

According to the WHO, the figures are very alarming, specifically when the contrast is made between low-income and high-income countries. In low-income countries, for every 100,000 inhabitants, there may be only 2 mental health workers, a figure that rises in high-income countries, where there may be as many as 70 for the same proportion of the population. 

What does this mean? What are the practical implications in terms of mental health? Well, imagine that you are in one of the lower-income countries and that, for some reason, you start to suffer from severe, very intense and frequent depressive symptoms. Hopefully, you will know to ask for help (many times people are not even aware that there are professionals who could help you).

Let’s say, then, that you decide to seek help. At that ratio, 2 mental health workers per 100,000 people, it is very difficult for you to find a professional who can help you with relative ease. Ideally, you may have to move to a larger city where you are more likely to find such a professional. 

For families living in low-income countries, simply moving from one place to another more or less far away has many consequences that they sometimes prefer to avoid. For that reason, among others, mental health funding is a crucial issue worldwide. 

Mental health funding shows the importance that is being given to mental health worldwide. 

Mental health funding: the need for paradigm shifts

On the other hand, there is a situation that also deserves great attention. The World Health Organization (WHO) launched the following program, the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020, which sought to advance specific points that are critical to mental health. 

One such objective is to align mental health care services with human rights and the conventions they generate. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Aren’t all people supposed to enjoy their basic human rights already? As it turns out, this is not the case, and specifically, in the case of mental health, a change is needed in order for the care of people with mental illness to change. 

In the absence of a human rights approach, people with mental disorders are often treated under the paradigm of a psychiatric institution, where they are confined and locked up for long periods of time. The change sought by the previous plan is for this model to change to one where services are provided in a comprehensive manner in the communities. 

This means, among other things, that people with mental illness can participate in decisions that are made at the public level and that affect them directly. 

Mental health funding: how much is spent per person? 

There is a very useful piece of information to get an idea of the level of spending on mental health worldwide. Again, the differences between low-income and high-income countries are very large and imply large differences in the level of care and the opportunity to receive adequate treatment. 

In low- and middle-income countries, government spending on mental health is less than $1 per person. Incredible, isn’t it? Just think, what service can you access with that money? This on a large scale means that spending is very low and since most of it goes to maintaining mental hospitals, not everyone who needs it ends up getting care. 

In contrast, in a high-income country, government spending can be as high as $80 per person. Do you notice the difference? It’s very big, and it means that the opportunity to receive adequate mental health services in low and middle-income countries is very low, which means that there will necessarily be a significant portion of the population who will suffer the most devastating consequences of mental illness.

Mental health funding: the case of suicide 

To get a concrete example of the implications of the deficit in the treatment of mental health problems, let’s look at the figures provided by the WHO on the suicide rate and the proportion of countries investing in suicide prevention programs at the national level. 

The first thing to know is that just under 800,000 die from suicide each year. And it is clear that there has been a slight increase in the implementation of prevention programs at the national level, but this still needs to improve. 

In upper-middle to high-income countries, one-third of them invest in suicide prevention programs. Only 10 percent of low and lower-middle-income countries have any strategy in place to address this issue. As is the case with the other figures presented, each deficit involves more and more people affected. 

Mental health funding: a specific case

Let’s take a specific example to understand the situation in which a country finds itself, and get a better idea of the situation. 


In Guatemala, a country located in the central region of America. This country does not have an exclusive mental health law that regulates the exercise of this in the whole country. On the other hand, there is no agency or authority that ensures that mental health issues are met and that mental health care is provided according to human rights standards. 

Below are the figures for professionals per 100,000 inhabitants in this country. As for psychiatrists, there are 0.49 per 100,000 inhabitants, or not even one. Child psychiatrists, there are 0.04 for the same proportion of the population. There are 1.07 mental health nurses per 100,000 inhabitants, 46.15 psychologists, 0.01 social workers, and 0.01 occupational therapists. 

Finally, to get an idea of the specific mental health needs of this population, for every 100,000 inhabitants of the country, it is reported that 101.23 were treated at some point because of severe mental illness. 

Mental health funding: what are we doing? 

Looking at the overall mental health funding figures worldwide, we see that there is still a very large deficit and that this has very serious implications for the general health of the world’s population. It is not just money spent, but what this means in practical terms for the lives of millions of people in need of mental health care. 

As mentioned in another post on this blog about mental health speech, the beliefs and discourse that is woven around mental health and mental illness must take on the greater force. It must be worked on so that people understand the importance of this aspect of life in general. 

The advances in knowledge that we have had so far allow us to have more certainty when proposing how to intervene in different mental disorders. Likewise, it allows us to advance in the understanding of the causes, so that some actions can be carried out to avoid, to some extent, that people suffer the worst consequences of mental illnesses. 


It was previously mentioned that when mental health is not invested inappropriately, there are a number of consequences at different levels. That is, when there is a lack of relevant investment in mental health, there are factors at the social level that are affected. Societies are built through interactions that occur between people. 

What happens then when these interactions are revolving too much around mental health problems? What practical implications can daily interactions between people with depressive symptoms have? There is one thing that is at stake, and that is the stability of society, which is better maintained as long as people are in good health. 

Mental health funding allows us to appreciate the importance of investing sufficiently in mental health for the well-being of the entire population. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about mental health funding

What agency has the largest funding for mental health research?

The NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) is the world’s largest funding agency for mental health research. 

How many people are affected by mental health in the world?

It is estimated that about one in four people will be affected by mental illness at some point in their lives. This figure is worldwide. 

What is Mental Health World Health Organization?

This is a worldwide organization that seeks to promote well-being in terms of health at a global level, through the impact on public policies and others in each of its member states (which are almost all the countries in the world).

What country has the lowest mental illness?

Taking the specific example of depression, it is found that the country that presents the least symptoms of this type is Japan, with less than 2.5% of diagnoses of this disorder in the country.

How common are mental health problems in the UK?

In the UK, it is estimated that around 1 in 4 people will have some form of mental illness each year. 


  1. The Mental Health Needs of Children & Young People: Guiding you to key issues and practices in CAMHS
  2. This Book Will Change Your Mind About Mental Health: A journey into the heartland of psychiatry
  3. The Mind Workout: Twenty steps to improve your mental health and take charge of your life
  4. Key Concepts in Mental Health (SAGE Key Concepts series)


  1. Mental Health ATLAS 2017 (WHO) 
  2. Mental Health Atlas-2017 country profiles
  3. Disparity between burden and budget for mental health

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