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Five policy actions can reduce mental health problems during economic crises (WHO)

April 21, 2011

A recent World Health Organization paper reaffirms the connection between economic activity and mental health: when the economy falters, poor mental health and mental illness increase.

However the report also finds that countries with strong social and health investments do not necessarily see increases in health inequality during a weakened economy. For example, findings show that unemployment does not necessarily lead to increased rates of suicide if spending on welfare programs exceeds $190 per person, per year. Conversely, those countries that do not invest in these programs see an increase in alcohol use and suicide during difficult financial times.

The report identifies five areas of policy that could provide a significant return on investment and guard against the effects of economic crises:

  1. Active labour market programming (focused on job retention)
  2. Social protection (such as family support, unemployment benefits and health care services)
  3. Controlling price and access to alcohol
  4. Improved primary care (early intervention)
  5. Debt relief programs that protect against poor mental health

Despite the economic and mental health benefits, investment in these areas continues to have low funding priority. The global economic recession offers an opportunity for countries to re-evaluate their current policies and positively impact the mental health of their communities.

Read the full report, “Impact of economic crises on mental health,” available at www.euro.who.

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