Press release

What is the role of science in mental health? Insights from the Wellcome Global Monitor

Over nine in ten people worldwide (92%) feel mental health is as or more important than physical health for overall wellbeing, with almost half (46%) saying it is more important - according to a new global survey into people's experiences and views on mental health and science.

Data from the Wellcome Global Monitor, published today, also reveals that those from low and lower-middle-income countries were more likely than those in higher-income countries to assign greater importance to mental health (58% vs. 28%). The survey, conducted by Gallup World Poll, covered over 119,000 people, aged 15 years old and older, in 113 countries and areas.

Science’s unclear role in mental health 

Despite the high value people put on mental health, the survey found that science’s role in understanding and alleviating mental health issues seems unclear to many. Less than a third said science can explain a lot about how feelings and emotions work (27%) or can do a lot to help treat anxiety or depression (31%). In contrast, about half said science can do a lot to help treat infectious diseases (53%) or cancer (49%).1

It’s clear that people around the world really value mental health but they don’t see science’s role in improving it. This is perhaps not that surprising, when we still know so little about what works for whom, and why. 

Science has enormous potential to improve mental health and researchers across the world are working to deepen our understanding and develop new treatment approaches. It might not be easy, but it’s within our grasp. Now is the time to go further and faster to find solutions to the problems faced by all of us.

A photograph of the person, Miranda Wolpert.

Miranda Wolpert

Director of Mental Health

Wellcome

Experiences of anxiety and depression 

By 2030, mental health issues are predicted to be the leading cause of global mortality and morbidity. The Wellcome Global Monitor asked people about the two most common mental health problems, anxiety and depression, finding: 

  • About 1 in 5 people said they had experienced anxiety or depression, which kept them from continuing their regular daily activities for two weeks or longer.  
  • Almost three quarters (73%) of people who had experienced anxiety or depression said they have felt this way more than once in their lives. The majority (62%) had their first experience before turning 30. 
  • The survey also asked about the things people with experience of anxiety or depression tried to make themselves feel better – offering eight different approaches2. Most people had used a combination of approaches; 72% had said they had used at least four of the eight. The most common thing that people used was talking to friends and family.
     

An urgent need for new solutions 

To realise our vision of a world where no one is held back by mental health problems, we need to better understand how existing solutions work and interact

For too many years treatments have barely progressed, are only accessible to a minority and do not help all of those in need. We need to find new solutions that will work across different settings and that can be made accessible to all. 

This is a huge challenge – but an extremely exciting one that I believe we can rise to together. By bringing together researchers from different disciplines and people with lived experience, we can find the next generation of treatments and improve mental health for everyone, everywhere.
 

A photograph of the person, Miranda Wolpert.

Miranda Wolpert

Director of Mental Health

Wellcome

Mental health problems are a growing public health concern, with anxiety and depression among the leading causes of illness and disability3, affecting millions globally each year and causing significant social and economic impacts.

Wellcome is working to transform how we understand and address mental health. In 2019 it committed over £200 million to find the next generation of treatments and approaches for anxiety and depression, bringing together young people with lived experience, mental health researchers and other experts from all over the world, to work collaboratively.

Wellcome is also supporting research to identify the ‘active ingredients’ – the aspects of an intervention that drive clinical effect – of different mental health treatments and approaches. A summary report of this work has also been published today, looking at approaches like relaxation techniques, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), sleep and helpful thinking patterns.

Find out more about Wellcome’s work to create a world where no one is held back by mental health problems: www.wellcome.org/what-we-do/mental-health
 
The role of science in mental health: Insights from the Wellcome Global Monitor report is available to download, alongside the dataset, on Wellcome’s website. The Wellcome Global Monitor’s findings on trust in science will be released in a second report later this year.

Notes to Editors 

The Wellcome Global Monitor: Mental Health is a global survey looking at how people consider and cope with anxiety and depression and explores the perceived role of science to find new solutions. 
 
Over 119,000 people, aged 15 years old and older, in over 113 countries and areas, were asked about their experiences and views on mental health. The survey focused on anxiety and depression that interfered with daily life. To try to differentiate this from the normal ups and downs of life this was defined as “a person being so anxious or depressed that they could not continue with their regular daily activities as they normally would for two weeks or longer”. 

The pandemic required significant changes to Gallup’s methodology for global data collection. In 2020, for the first time, the World Poll surveys were conducted almost exclusively via telephone (the Wellcome Global Monitor questions were done exclusively via phone) to reduce risk of coronavirus exposure to interviewers or respondents. The phone surveys are weighted to be nationally representative but in some cases, the coverage and response rates will be lower.

  • Jan 2020 – March 2020: developing and testing the survey questionnaire  
  • April 2020 – July 2020: the fieldwork prep  
  • 4 August 2020– 18 Feb 2021: data collected (via telephone interviews with nationally representative samples in 113 countries and territories) 
  • March 2021 – May 2021: results analysed  
  • June 2021 – August 2021: report written

This is the second global survey conducted by Gallup World Poll for Wellcome. In 2019, the first Wellcome Global Monitor was published.

References

  • 1 Full questions and findings on pages 11-12 of the report.
  • 2 The eight different approaches offered were: Talk to friends or family ; improve health lifestyle behaviours, such as exercise, sleep and diet ; Spend time in nature/the outdoors ; Make a major change in your personal relationships ; Make a major change in your work situation ; Take medication as prescribed by a healthcare professional ; Talk to a mental health professional ; Engage in religious or spiritual activities, or talk to a religious leader.
  • 3https://www.who.int/healthinfo/global_burden_disease/GBD_report_2004update_full.pdf

About Wellcome

Wellcome supports science to solve the urgent health challenges facing everyone. We support discovery research into life, health and wellbeing, and we’re taking on three worldwide health challenges: mental health, global heating and infectious diseases.

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