Chunling Lu, PhD, of the Division of Global Health Equity, and colleagues report that in developing countries, less than 1 percent of total development funding for health goes toward mental health, even though mental and substance-use disorders are a leading cause of the global burden of disease. Lu and colleagues found that development assistance for global mental health (DAMH) has increased over the last several years, but the level of funding remains low. The team’s findings appear in a Policy Forum article published in PLoS Medicine.

Mental and substance-use disorders afflict about 700 million people worldwide and rank third in leading global causes of disability-adjusted life years. Despite an expanding body of evidence suggesting that sustainable mental health care can be effectively integrated into existing health systems at a low cost, mental health has not received significant development assistance, according to the researchers.

The research team identifies amounts and patterns of funding made by international donors between 2007 and 2013. The authors found that about 48 percent of total development assistance for global mental health was for humanitarian assistance, education and civil services.

The authors write that the “increase in DAMH after 2007 is simply too small. The less than 1 percent channeled into mental health suggests that mental illness is indeed among the ‘most neglected of neglected diseases.’”

The paper closes by noting that the need for mental health funding “should be clearly advocated to development aid agencies in well-resourced countries by raising awareness of the burden of mental illness, its far-reaching socioeconomic impact, the benefits of treatment and the current deficit in mental health financing.”