Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 64



Thought leader
Mental health and the SDGs:
building sustainable human capability
Mental health was invisible in the millennium development goals (MDGs). While
several researchers have argued that almost all of the MDGs were affected by
mental health, and that it would be difficult to attain many of them without
addressing mental health, there was no explicit mention of the term. Searching for
‘mental’ in the MDGs yields words such as ‘developmental’ and ‘environmental’,
but no ‘mental health’!
This was a missed opportunity, because there is now
substantial evidence from low- and middle-income
countries (LMIC) that women and men who live in
poverty and adversity have increased risk for a range
of mental health conditions, including depression,
anxiety disorders, trauma and schizophrenia.
Conversely, people who live with mental health
problems are at greater risk of drifting into or
remaining in poverty; because their condition excludes
them from income-generating activities, they are
frequently stigmatised and subjected to human rights
abuses, and they spend more on healthcare than
people who do not have mental health problems. So
59 UCT RESEARCH & INNOVATION 2015–16
the relationship between poverty and mental illness
is cyclical, including ‘social causation’ and ‘social drift’
pathways.
Encouragingly, there is emerging evidence for how
this cycle can be broken. In 2011 we published a
systematic review in the Lancet, which assessed
the evidence for the impact of poverty-alleviation
interventions on mental health, and the impact of
mental-health interventions on poverty in LMIC. We
found that the evidence for the former (such as cash
transfers and loans) was mixed, and quite thin. But
the evidence for the latter, while still nascent, was
quite compelling.

Lancet





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