Why the mental health system really needs to innovate

This blog is part of a series published on WEFLIVE from young leaders in the One Young World community who are addressing issues across the world relating to the World Economic Forum 2017 theme of 'Responsive and Responsible Leadership'.

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There is a silent killer around the world, that’s responsible for around one million deaths every year, and whose death toll has increased by 65% in the last 45 years. One might assume, given these numbers that I might be talking about a global threat such as terrorism or murder but I am not. The issue I am talking about is suicide - and unfortunately - it's still not taken seriously because of the stigma that still exists around mental illness.  

People still consider mental illness to be an excuse for bad behaviour and those suffering with it are not seen as suitable friends, partners or community members. This stigma leads individuals living with mental health concerns to suffer in silence - even though there are effective and low-cost treatments available. While not having an honest conversation about mental health affects individuals and their families deeply, it's also hurting our wallets. In fact, according to a Joint Report from the WHO and the World Bank released in April of 2016, "the global cost of mental disorders was estimated to be approximately US$2.5 trillion; by 2030, that figure is projected to go up by 240%, to US$6.0 trillion. The overwhelming majority - roughly two-thirds - of those costs are indirect ones associated with the loss of productivity and income due to disability or death. So what should we do about it?

The first step, which is slowly happening all over the world, is to talk about it. Mental illness doesn't care how much money you have, where you were born, or where you are going. It can happen to anyone and happens to over 10% of the world’s population every year. If we speak honestly about our experiences with these illnesses, we will show the world that mental illness is nothing to be afraid of. We are your family members, friends, community members, colleagues, and leaders, and all we want is to get the support and mental health help that we need. As a person who lives with mental illness, being open about my struggle has not only been a relief for me that allows me function at a much higher level, it has allowed me to support the stories of others also suffering.

The second step is to make the help available sooner. In many countries around the world, folks don't receive mental health support until they are suicidal - if at all. That's like starting to treat cancer at stage four rather than a stage one. If we made support available and stigma-free, people would be able to get the support they need and move on with their lives. This requires our leaders to invest in meaningful solutions to the problem. Not only would this mean saving and improving lives - this would also mean saving money by decreasing hospital stays, disability, and death.

I ask the leaders meeting at the WEF this week to please learn about mental health, talk about it, and invest in it. If we all do this, I believe we can create a future where suicide is an issue of the past.

Alicia Raimundo is a One Young World Ambassador from Canada and a mental health superhero who is working to reduce the stigma and open up the conversation on mental health.