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Mental health, poverty and development

Michelle Funk (Based in the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland)
Natalie Drew (Based in the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland )
Martin Knapp (Based at the Personal Social Services Research Unit, London School of Economics and Political Science, London UK, and the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, UK)

Journal of Public Mental Health

ISSN: 1746-5729

Article publication date: 30 November 2012




This paper, which builds on the findings of WHO's Report on Mental Health and Development, aims to highlight the health, social, economic, and human rights effects of unaddressed mental disorders in low and middle income countries (LMICs) and to propose effective strategies to address mental disorders and their impacts as part of an overall development strategy.


The paper first reviews the findings of relevant research on mental disorders and poverty and then proposes solutions that can be adopted by countries to promote development.


This evidence of strong links between poverty and mental disorder supports the argument that mental disorders should be an important concern for development strategies. Mental disorders have diverse and far‐reaching social impacts, including homelessness, higher rates of imprisonment, poor educational opportunities and outcomes, lack of employment and reduced income. Targeted poverty alleviation programmes are needed to break the cycle between mental illness and poverty. These must include measures specifically addressing the needs of people with mental health conditions, such as the provision of accessible and effective services and support, facilitation of education, employment opportunities and housing, and enforcement of human rights protection.


The paper highlights that four out of every five people suffering from mental disorders are living in LMICs. Many LMICs have identified mental health as an important issue, yet lack the finances and technical expertise to address the problem. Having mental health on the agenda of development organizations will be a critical step for overcoming the negative development consequences of mental disorders.



Funk, M., Drew, N. and Knapp, M. (2012), "Mental health, poverty and development", Journal of Public Mental Health, Vol. 11 No. 4, pp. 166-185.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Authors

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