Introduction

This is the introduction to the Wellcome Global Monitor 2020: Mental Health

Why study mental health?

Wellcome conducted the first Global Monitor – the largest-ever study of public attitudes to science and health – in 2018. The first wave covered topics such as whether people trust science, scientists and information about health, and attitudes towards the safety and efficacy of vaccines – a focus which has since proved to be incredibly forward-thinking. 

In 2020, a central focus of the Global Monitor was the role of science in mental health. 

Mental health problems are holding back people of all ages in all parts of the world. The two most common mental health problems, anxiety and depression, affect over 400 million people worldwide. And by 2030, mental health issues are predicted to be the leading cause of global mortality and morbidity (1). Yet progress towards improving mental health around the world is lagging behind other areas of health. 

In 2020, Wellcome launched its commitment to prioritise funding science that would help address mental health problems, with an initial focus on anxiety and depression in youth, to advance its vision of a world in which no one is held back by mental health problems. 

By focusing on mental health – specifically, anxiety and depression – as part of the 2020 Wellcome Global Monitor report, Wellcome is seeking to help illuminate how the world views mental health science and to share insights into what scientists need to prioritise globally if new solutions are to be found. 

Importantly, world views on health, mental health and science were in flux when the data were collected due to the pandemic. It is impossible to say how much or in what ways COVID-19 may have impacted the results, given that 2020 was the first time mental health-related questions were asked as part of the Global Monitor. Some findings, such as people’s likelihood of reporting spending time outdoors in response to anxiety or depression, may be particularly sensitive to the restrictions imposed during lockdowns in many places.

However, as questions about specific experiences were framed historically, we believe that the results reflect people’s long-term attitudes and experiences. For example, respondents were asked whether they had ever experienced anxiety or depression and what approaches to feeling better they had used at that time. Nonetheless, it is possible that the pandemic increased people’s likelihood of saying they have experienced anxiety or depression.

Finally, the mental health questions on which this report is based were not the only questions included in the 2020 Global Monitor. Additional question sets in the survey update results from the 2018 Monitor on public views of science and health, including opinions about trust in the scientific and healthcare communities.

The 2020 Monitor also included several questions on public perceptions of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, which will be explored in a future report. 

We hope the 2020 Wellcome Global Monitor provides some interesting insights and sparks new conversations. The data are freely available, and we encourage people to explore them and hypothesise as they see fit.

To access the datasets and tables that contain the mental health results by country and demographic group, visit: https://wellcome.org/reports/wellcome-global-monitor-mental-health/2020.

    Endnotes

    1. World Health Assembly, 65. (2012). Global burden of mental disorders and the need for a comprehensive, coordinated response from health and social sectors at the country level: Report by the Secretariat. World Health Organization. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/78898