Mental health around the world has continued to decline in 2021 but not as dramatically as in 2020. This is the crucial finding from the 2nd Annual Mental State of the World Report (MSW) researched by Sapien Labs.
In 2020, driven mostly by the COVID-19 pandemic, the report saw a drop of 8 percent in the average mental health and wellbeing across participants. In 2021, the decline continued but was slower at 3 percent. The decline was once again influenced by COVID-19 measures, such as lockdowns and social distancing, but the report also found a directional correlation between mental health decline and COVID-19 deaths and cases.
Many have argued that unclear messaging from governments regarding COVID-19, lack of support for individuals, and a focus on saving the economy rather than people, were major missteps in the managing of the pandemic.
The report doesn’t go as far as establishing that but found that the economic success of a country appears to be negatively correlated to the mental health index. The data perhaps suggest that when our economic systems work, they foster inequality and encourage exploitation, creating worse mental health outcomes for the wider population.
The worst mental health outcomes were in the Core Anglosphere (US, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand) and in South Africa, while Latin America and Continental European countries surveys had the better mental wellbeing overall. People in the Core Anglosphere score lowest when it comes to the Social Self – how we view ourselves and how we form and maintain strong and stable relationships with others – as well as Mood and Outlook.
And the younger generation seems to be most affected by the decline. Only 7 percent of those 65 or older have mental health issues in the “distressed” or “struggling” ranges compared to 44 percent of young people. Only 19 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds had “thriving” or “succeeding” mental wellbeing scores.
When looking at the gender gap, men tend to have the highest well-being. The gap between men and women is described as small but persistent, with the highest difference in Latin America, and the smallest in the Core Anglosphere. Non-binary people had the poorest mental wellbeing, with 51 percent being distressed or struggling.
“This year, the results quite honestly surprised us. It is the first view of the magnitude of differences in mental wellbeing across age groups, genders and countries. Overall the findings were surprising and left us to ponder that perhaps our systems of economic growth, values of individualism and a shift from in-person to largely digital interaction fosters an environment of poor mental wellbeing. This data makes clear that, to nurture the human spirit, we need a new paradigm,” Tara Thiagarajan, Founder and Chief Scientist at Sapien Labs, said in a statement.
A paradigm shift is necessary to halt this unfolding crisis. It is not just about helping those who are struggling but removing the factors that make mental health decline in the first place.
The work has its limitations in how it was conducted. It used Mental Health Quotient (MHQ) – an online anonymous survey – on people across 34 countries between January 1 and December 31, 2021. It attracted 223,000 people across those nations that have access to the internet and have an interest in this subject area.