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%. In addition, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, continued to say 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.

In the June 5, 2022 publication of the Sunday Times, South African singer and songwriter, Simphiwe Dana, whose latest album is named after the largest city in Mali – Bamako – revealed her struggles with depression during COVID-19. She said: “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. Listed number 3 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, means a healthy mental state. This means that health resources and budgets must factor the area of mental health. However, in many Sub-Saharan countries, less than 1% of already small health budgets is spent on mental health, according to the Mental Health Innovation Network. 

To give perspective on the African context; the WHO estimates that fewer than 10% of mentally ill Nigerians have access to a psychiatrist or health worker. 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 mental illness. In 2016, Sierra Leon’s Kissy National Referral Psychiatric Hospital was reported to not have a trained psychiatrist, except one on contract basis. 

The fact that less than 1% of health budgets are allocated to mental health in Africa, compared with 6 – 12% in Europe and North America, paints a stark picture. While mental health issues were previously neglected in the continent, the issue is becoming more significant and topical. The opportunity for awareness campaigns and early education for holistic programmes to wellness could translate into Africa’s youth potential leading healthier lifestyles with increased longevity. 

Big businesses, policymakers, entrepreneurs, and other players have a valuable interest in Africa’s growth potential. Companies stand to benefit greatly in addressing mental health issues in the continent and leveraging the youth market to increase education on mental well-being, which could improve mortality rates, increase productivity and economic success. 

As part of our global network and access to markets, AIMS International has introduced a webinar series that will focus on Africa, where global leaders working in Africa and the Middle East share their experiences, advice, best practices and opportunities to do business on the continent. Read more about eyeAfrica