Policy Perspective: G20 Countries And Mental Health Discourse – OpEd


The G20 is a multilateral group of the world’s 20 largest economies, including the European Union that meets annually to discuss important issues related to global economic growth, international trade, and financial regulation and makes decisions that can shape the future of the world. At the time of its conception in 1999, G20 was focused primarily on macroeconomic policies.

The first G20 meeting was held in 2008 and since then G20 has expanded in its ambit to include other crucial matters like climate change, sustainable development, environment etc. However, it is crucial to note that mental health has not been a priority for the group. In the past there has been little discussion on the mental health issues in G20 summits. At the G20 summit held in Antalya, Turkey in 2015, the leaders discussed the need for more comprehensive mental health policies, including improving access to mental health services and reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.

At the G20 summit held in Hamburg, Germany in 2017, the leaders emphasized the need for better mental health care and called for greater investment in mental health research and treatment. At the G20 summit held in Osaka, Japan in 2019, the leaders issued a declaration recognizing the importance of mental health and committed to promoting mental well-being through policy measures and international cooperation. However, mental health has not been a central focus of these summits. There are several reasons why mental health issues have been neglected in past G20 summits.

Firstly, mental health is often seen as a domestic issue rather than a global one. Governments are responsible for the provision of mental health services in their countries, and there is often little coordination between countries in addressing mental health issues. Additionally, mental health is still stigmatized in many societies, making it difficult to raise awareness and support for mental health initiatives.

Secondly, there is a lack of data and research on mental health at the global level. Mental health is often underfunded compared to other health issues, making it difficult to gather reliable data and research. Without reliable data, it is challenging to make a compelling case for including mental health in G20 discussions.

Thirdly, there is a lack of political will to address mental health at the global level. Mental health has not been a priority for many governments, and there has been a lack of leadership on the issue. This lack of political will has made it difficult to mobilize support for mental health initiatives.

The neglect of mental health in past G20 summits is a significant concern and has broader implications for global health and wellbeing. Mental health issues have a significant impact on individuals, families, and societies, and the economic cost of untreated mental illness is enormous. According to a report by the Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health and Sustainable Development, mental illness costs the global economy $1 trillion per year, and this is projected to rise to $16 trillion by 2030. It is also closely linked to other health issues, such as non-communicable diseases and infectious diseases.

Some of the common mental health issues experienced by people around the world include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and eating disorders, among others. These issues can be caused by a variety of factors such as genetics, life experiences, and environmental factors, and can have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life. In 2023, the G20 summit will be held in a world that is still grappling with the Covid 19 pandemic, leading to a range of health, economic and social challenges. Not only did the pandemic cause various mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, but it also exacerbated the existing conditions due to factors such as isolation, loss of income and fear of illness. 

Moreover, the current state of the world is marked by a high level of uncertainty due to various factors, including the possibility of a recession, ongoing wars, and natural disasters. The global economy has been on shaky ground in recent years, with many economists warning of an impending recession. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread disruption to businesses and industries, and there are concerns that the recovery will be slow and uneven, leading to further economic turmoil.

In addition, there are geopolitical tensions between major powers, trade wars, and other factors that could exacerbate the economic uncertainty. Meanwhile, ongoing wars and conflicts in various parts of the world have created significant instability and uncertainty. This includes conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, Ukraine, and other regions, which have led to large-scale displacement of populations, loss of life, destruction of infrastructure and consequent mental health conditions including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The humanitarian impact of these conflicts is enormous, and the political and security implications are far-reaching.

Moreover, the natural disasters such as the turbulent earthquake in Turkey, can have a significant impact on mental health. The trauma and stress of experiencing or witnessing a natural disaster can lead to a range of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse. In 2020 too, a powerful earthquake had struck the Aegean coast of Turkey causing significant damage and loss of life leaving many people homeless, injured, or traumatized. Gender discrimination and gender-based violence is another concerning factor that contributes to the mental health issues. The pandemic not only exposed but also intensified existing gender inequalities, including unequal pay and lack of access to healthcare and essential services. Hence, addressing gender-based violence and discrimination is essential to achieving a sustainable and equitable recovery from the pandemic.

The Covid 19 pandemic has also had a significant impact on the global economy, and many countries are still struggling to recover. This economic instability is also a major factor leading to mental health issues and is likely to be a key focus of G20 in the coming years. 

The G20 summit 2023 can play a crucial role in addressing the mental health crisis. The summit should prioritize mental health on the agenda and commit to concrete actions to address the mental health crisis. These actions may include increased funding for mental services and research, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Efforts should also be made to integrate mental health services into primary healthcare systems to improve access and ensure early detection and treatment of mental health problems. One major step towards addressing mental health issues is creating awareness and address the issue of stigma and discrimination associated with mental health issues.

The developed countries of G20 have invested in creating public awareness campaigns to combat stigma associated with mental health issues. India and other developing nations of the G20 can learn from these initiatives and develop similar campaigns to create awareness. These developed nations have also invested in mental health research, leading to the development of effective treatments for mental health issues.

As part of G20, India can lead other developing countries of the G20 group and learn from these research initiatives and invest in mental health research to develop treatments that are culturally and socially sensitive to their specific populations. India can also mobilize resources to support mental health initiatives in G20 countries that lack resources to address mental health challenges India has a robust health system and can leverage its resources to support mental health programs in other countries. Considering the diverse population of the nation, India can also be the torch bearer to initiate the mental health discourse at G20 forum from a multicultural perspective.

The G20 is composed of countries with diverse cultures, beliefs, and practices. G20 summit can provide an opportunity to India to propose mental health policies and programs that consider the unique cultural perspectives and beliefs of different countries. This could include addressing cultural taboos around mental health, incorporating traditional healing practices into mental health care, and providing language services to ensure that mental health services are accessible to individuals who may not speak the dominant language of their country. 

In addition to these concrete actions, G20 could also use its platform to promote broader social and economic policies that support mental health. For example, policies that promote job security, reduce income inequality, and provide social support can all contribute to better mental health outcomes. The G20 could also work to address the social determinants of mental health, such as poverty, discrimination, and violence. 

Multilateralism, such as G20 is not new. For instance, the United Nations was formed after the world wars to prevent such wars in the future. However, it has failed to prevent wars in Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Such multilateralism often involves talking of national issues of trade, finance, politics at the cost of more human problems. In approaches wherein trade, politics, lobbying were at the centre, the efforts of multilateralism have succumbed to the pressures from economically well-off countries. However, it has been successful in the past only when it let go of national labels and worked from the prism of human problems. This can be observed in the success of food security schemes of Red Cross in Africa.

This can also be seen in the overwhelming response that UN’s declaration of June 21st as the International Day of Yoga received because of the universal appeal of Yoga as a holistic practice that promotes physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. Presently, G20 summit 2023 will be hosted by India, a country that has always believed in “Vasudaiv Kutumbkam” or ‘one world and one family’. India must utilize this opportunity to be a torch bearer and emphasize on removing national labels and talk human problems of mental health issues in a way that they are not politicised. 

In conclusion, the G20 summit will take place in a world that is still dealing with the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic and will provide an excellent platform for countries to collaborate and share their experiences on mental health issues. B working together, the G20 can help to reduce the stigma associated with mental health, increase funding for mental health services, and promote broader social and economic policies that support mental health. It could discuss ways to support economic recovery, a major factor influencing mental health, including through stimulus measures, investment in infrastructure and support for small and medium businesses. Gender, mental health issues, and economic recovery are all important and interlinked topics that should be discussed by the G20. The decision made at the G20 in 2023 could have a profound impact on the lives of millions of people around the world, and it is important that mental health remains a priority for the group. 

Dr Shalini Mittal is on the faculty of Psychology at Bennett University, India  

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