BOSTON - A few years ago, toward the end of his life, my father battled severe depression. As a physician and professor, he did not lack access to mental healthcare. But he had grown up in a society that stigmatized mental illness, and he was unwilling to seek professional help. As a son, it was devastating to watch my father suffer. As a public health researcher, I gained a new awareness of the myriad systemic failures in the provision of care.
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 professionals for 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 healthcare, 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 healthcare 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 has beThe content herein is subject to copyright by Project Syndicate. All rights reserved. The content of the services is owned or licensed to The Yuan. The copying or storing of any content for anything other than personal use is expressly prohibited without prior written permission from The Yuan, or the copyright holder identified in the copyright notice contained in the content.