Scientists from around the world are now seeking to address the problems with “Countdown Global Mental Health 2030,” a “multi-stakeholder monitoring and accountability collaboration for mental health” launched in February. But, while this initiative is a positive step, it neglects a key element of an effective solution: advanced technology, especially artificial intelligence (AI).
Globally, the supply of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists is nowhere near sufficient. For example, in Zimbabwe, there are just 25 mental-health professionalsfor a population of over 16 million. While the country has produced some innovative and useful community-led initiatives, such as the “Friendship Bench,” their scalability is limited.
Lack of access to mental-health care is hardly a developing-country problem. In the United States, almost half of the population is unable to access comprehensive mental-health care, often owing to financial constraints.
Beyond access, there is the stigma issue, exemplified by my father’s experience. Clinical evidence indicates that stigma takes two forms. People who seek mental-health care may face public stigma in the form of discrimination and exclusion, owing to endemic misconceptions about mental illness. When those beliefs are internalized, sufferers may also struggle with self-stigma: low self-esteem, low self-efficacy, and unwillingness to pursue productive opportunities.
The consequences of failing to provide adequate care have been severely underestimated. According to one study, mental-health issues are responsible for 32.4% of years lived with disability and 13% of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) – years of “healthy” life lost due to disease, disability, or untimely death.