Two brothers hug in a park a few days after lockdown restrictions were eased.

Hayleigh Longman

Josh hugs his little brother, Tanny. This image was taken a few days after the UK government eased lockdown restrictions. 

Executive summary

This is the executive summary of the Wellcome Global Monitor 2020: Mental Health

Wellcome envisions a world in which no one is held back by mental health problems. Our efforts towards improving mental health around the world includes using science to understand which approaches for alleviating mental health issues work, for whom, how and why. The answers to these questions could contribute to the development of next-generation treatments to help those with mental health problems – specifically, anxiety or depression – all over the world.

The Wellcome Global Monitor aimed to find out how important mental health is to people across the globe and their views on science’s role in addressing mental health problems. It also provides an insight into the actions people with anxiety or depression take to feel better. Many of the most commonly reported methods do not yet have a robust evidence base, suggesting there are ripe areas of research for mental health scientists as they work to develop the next generation of treatments.

What we did 

We set out to use the 2020 Wellcome Global Monitor to explore the following: 

  1. Global perceptions of the importance of mental health for overall wellbeing. 
  2. Global perceptions of the role of science in understanding mental health and finding solutions to anxiety and depression.
  3. The different approaches people across the world with anxiety or depression use to manage their anxiety or depression and the perceived helpfulness of those approaches.

We were clear from the start that this survey was not intended to be an epidemiological study or a study of the efficacy of different approaches people use to treat their anxiety or depression.

Detailed definitions or independent assessments were not provided; rather, to differentiate anxiety or depression that interfered with functioning from the normal ups and downs of life, the survey asked people about ‘extreme’ states, defined as being ‘so anxious or depressed that you could not continue your regular daily activities as you normally would for two weeks or longer’. 

In partnership with Gallup, the second wave of the Wellcome Global Monitor was conducted between 4 August 2020 and 18 February 2021 via telephone interviews with nationally representative samples in 113 countries and territories. 

What we learned 

  1. The vast majority of people (92%) viewed mental health as being equally important to overall wellbeing as physical health, if not more so. People from low- and lower-middle-income countries were more likely than those in higher-income countries to assign greater importance to mental health (58% compared with 28%), but there were no notable differences across age and education groups within countries (see Chapter 1).
  2. A greater proportion of people saw science as more relevant to explaining how the human body works (46%) than how feelings and emotions work (27%). People were also more likely to say that science can treat infectious diseases or cancer (53% and 49%) rather than anxiety or depression (31%). There were no notable differences in these views across age and education groups or between low-, upper-middle-and high-income countries (see Chapter 1).
  3. Around one in five people (19%) said that they had, at some point, experienced anxiety or depression. This proportion varied significantly by global region, from 9% in East Asia to 33% in Latin America; the results also varied by gender and other demographic characteristics (see Chapter 2). 
  4. Among those who had personally experienced anxiety or depression, the three most-endorsed methods for feeling better were talking to friends or family, improving healthy lifestyle behaviours and spending time in nature/the outdoors. These were also the approaches people said they found to be the most helpful. Talking to a mental health professional and taking prescribed medication were approaches less commonly used (see Chapter 3).