Investing in mental health in low-income countries

Research reports and studies
December 2016
Hannah Caddick, Ben Horne, Jessica Mackenzie and Helen Tilley

Mental health represents a huge cost to society and the economy in healthy years lost and affects some of the world’s most vulnerable people. It is also now included in the Sustainable Development Goals. But while the need to invest in mental health is increasingly recognised, funding is still not being prioritised – in national budgets or in development aid for LICs. Previous research by ODI suggested that donors would be willing to provide funding to LICs for mental health but that demand needed to come from the LIC governments themselves. It also revealed that there was a lack of understanding of how much and how to spend money among decision-makers consulted.

The expert-recommended minimum spend on mental health is around ten times what LICs are currently spending on average. For policy-makers in LICs, grappling with complex and urgent competing priorities, engaging with mental health programming may appear opaque and politically sensitive, not to mention financially out of reach. This research set out to make investing in mental health services realistic and manageable for LIC governments. It found that there were valuable steps that governments can take with limited funding, and suggests and sets out incremental approaches to both investment and service delivery.