The Return On The Individual: The New Approach to Mental Health Investment


Financial Returns Alone Don’t Measure the Full Value of Investing in Mental Health.

We’re witnessing a global mental health crisis. 284 million people suffer from anxiety and 265 million from depression worldwide and suicide is the leading cause of death for young people globally.

Poor mental health costs the world economy US$2.5 trillion every year – but the costs can’t just be
measured in dollars and cents. Mental health affects us in ways that aren’t easily quantified. It affects
us as individuals, as families, as communities and as societies.

The average return on investment in common mental health conditions is roughly 4:1 , meaning for
every dollar invested, the benefit to society is worth five. Most investors would take that kind of return
any day. Yet, less than 2% of national health budgets are spent on mental health. So why aren’t
governments investing?

The case for mental health investment too often focuses on financial statistics. There is compelling
data about mental health financing, that’s for sure, but the stories and experiences of individuals are
missing. It’s stories, not numbers alone, that win arguments. It’s clear that a new approach is
needed – one that puts faces to the stats and puts human beings at the centre.

The Return on the Individual Approach

At United for Global Mental Health, we support Speak Your Mind, a nationally-led, globally-united
campaign demanding mental health for all, active in 19 countries. This month, Speak Your Mind
published its new report – the Return on the Individual – that explores the wider case for mental health

For the first time, the report puts individuals at the forefront and shows how investing in mental health
creates a ripple of positive effects that go beyond just the financial. It features the powerful stories of
Timiebi, Graeme, Josephine, Sodkin and Ceceilia, who are living proof of how investment has the
ability to transform lives. These personal stories from around the world demonstrate the endless
returns available to societies – from improved physical health , to positive impacts on the family unit ,
and improved social cohesiveness.

New data produced for the report suggests that by reaching adequate government investment by
2030, cases of anxiety, severe depression and epilepsy could be reduced by 60 million. Nearly 25
million additional healthy life years could be gained for those with anxiety, depression, psychosis,
bipolar disorder and epilepsy. 200,000 lives lost due to severe depression, psychosis and epilepsy
could be averted. The people behind these statistics are real. They have their own story to tell.
They matter.

Mental Health At Work

As the report shows, businesses can also reap the benefits. Investing in employee mental health
improves the bottom line whilst creating happier, more efficient and more productive workforces.
Companies on average receive a $5 return for every $1 invested in employee mental health and

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As Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever said at the report’s launch event, “We believe if we look after our people, our customers, our partners, our suppliers, the society and our planet then at the end of that the shareholder will be well rewarded.” He described the trailblazing efforts of Unilever to support employee mental health during COVID-19 – with increased communication, access to virtual counselling and the use of data to identify employees who may need extra support.

Employers are under-used agents of change and with a sixth of the workforce having some form of
mental health condition at any given time, the workplace could be a crucial frontline of mental health
service delivery.

It’s #TimeToInvest

We hope that this report will equip campaigners around the world to approach their leaders and call
for greater investment in mental health and that decision makers will listen – and realise the many
benefits that come from such investment.

In light of the current public health crisis, this report is more important than ever. COVID-19 will have
substantial short and long-term impacts on people’s mental health around the world. Our immediate
response must include mental health support to all those affected, led by WHO guidance. Then, as we
work to build back better , governments, businesses and other funders must prioritise mental
wellbeing and better integrate mental health into their programmes for populations and employees.

Now, more than ever, we need to make the case for global mental health investment. But we can’t
make this case by only showing the financial gains. We must turn the old ‘return on investment’ on
its head and replace it with ‘return on the individual’. We must put people at the heart of our
argument and tell a more compelling story that will convince governments, businesses and funders
around the world to invest in mental health and release the returns for individuals, families,
businesses and society at large. It’s #TimeToInvest.

Download the full report via our website.

Elisha London is CEO of United for Global Mental Health

Elisha is a social entrepreneur and campaigner. She was the Founding UK CEO of the Global Poverty
Project (now ‘Global Citizen’) and is currently the Founder and CEO of United for Global Mental
Health. In 2013 Elisha suffered a trauma and was diagnosed with PTSD and depression. Following
her recovery, she was Campaign Director for the Heads Together campaign, run by The Royal
Foundation and spearheaded by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. Following
Heads Together, Elisha identified the need for increased global action on mental health and so, along
with her Co-Founders Sarah Kline and Alexander Woollcombe launched United for Global Mental


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