9 September 2022

Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a scientific brief stating that in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression shot up by a massive 25 percent. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, also pointed out that “the information we have now about the impact of COVID-19 on the world’s mental health is just the tip of the iceberg.” These chilling hard facts are sharply felt by both rich and poor, in various ways.


Around the same time, South African singer–songwriter Simphiwe Dana described to South Africa’s Sunday Times how she struggled with depression during COVID-19. She said that, “Covid deepened my experience of depression to a breaking point, a point where I had a choice to either break, or seek to understand why I was breaking and choose to live…”


To live a healthy life is a preeminent right of every human being. Third place in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the priority to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for the world’s citizens. A healthy life, naturally, predicated on a healthy mental state. This means that health resources and budgets should extend to mental health care. However, in many sub-Saharan countries, less than one percent of already meagre health budgets is spent on mental health, according to the Mental Health Innovation Network.


To give perspective on the African situation, the WHO has estimated that fewer than 10 percent of mentally ill Nigerians have access to a psychiatrist or health worker. That’s not surprising when you learn that there are just 130 psychiatrists in a country of 174 million people – 40 to 60 million of whom could need help. In 2012, Human Rights Watch (HRW), a non-governmental organisation, estimated that 2.8 million Ghanaians (out of a population of 25.9 million) had a mental illness. In 2016, Sierra Leon’s Kissy National Referral Psychiatric Hospital was reported to have not trained psychiatrists, except for a retiree retained on contract.


The fact that less than a percent of health budgets is allocated to mental health in Africa, compared with 6–12 percent in Europe and North America, paints a stark picture. While mental health issues were previously neglected on the continent, the issue is gaining visibility. The hope is that awareness campaigns and early education, as well as a more holistic approach to wellness – could mean Africa’s youth will lead healthier, happier lives.


Big business, entrepreneurs, governments, and other players all have an interest in unlocking Africa’s enormous growth potential. Working in partnership, they stand to benefit greatly from addressing mental health issues on the continent and, in that way, improving mortality rates, increasing productivity, and driving economic success.

AIMS International is a network of Executive Search and Talent Management firms operating in more than 50 countries and from about 90 offices around the globe. Partnerships in Africa have introduced a webinar series focused on the continent, where leaders working in Africa and the Middle East share their experiences and expertise. For more information and to listen to the latest podcasts click here.

Arthur Nkuna

Arthur is a business management professional with expertise in business strategy and talent management. Prior to joining AIMS International, he worked at leading South African financial services institutions, arts and culture development agencies, and an accelerator hub where he was responsible for the recruitment and development of creative industry business owners. He is based in Johannesburg. 

Arthur writes with Mohau Bosiu, an independent marketing and media writer in South Africa collaborating with us on eyeAFRICA