Mental health data and where to find it

The current state of mental health data 

The scale of current data gaps on mental health, especially in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs), is a cause for concern. For example, global coverage of prevalence data for six mental disorders in ages 5-17 years is just 6.7%. Coverage is especially low in LMICs, with no region in sub-Saharan Africa having more than 2% prevalence data coverage for any mental health condition.

Why having good mental health data matters 

Having timely, representative, good-quality data on mental health is essential to provide an evidence base for decision-making, drive policy change, ensure accountability, and make the case for increased investment and improved access to services.

During a lively, well-attended session on data advocacy at the 2023 Global Mental Health Action Network (GMHAN) Annual Meeting in Cape Town, we heard powerful examples of how participants have used data in their advocacy to secure youth involvement in policy reform in the Caribbean, a new Mental Health Act in Nigeria, and the decriminalisation of suicide in Ghana.

Key sources of mental health data and recommendations for improving it 

To help advocates to find and use mental health data in their work, UnitedGMH has published a policy brief on mental health data and where to find it. The policy brief summarises and signposts the main sources of data relevant to mental health. It covers data available from both official sources (governments as well as and intergovernmental organisations such as the UN) and unofficial sources (e.g. the private sector, civil society organisations and citizen-generated data). It outlines the pros and cons of different datasets, identifies current data gaps and makes recommendations for action, such as:

  • To ensure the right data is being captured and monitored for progress on NCDs and mental health, governments must include questions about mental health in national census and population surveys. Strengthening administrative data systems (e.g. civil registration and vital statistics) is a prerequisite for better data-driven decision-making on preventative and community programmes.
  • To maximise the utility of the WHO’s Mental Health Atlas, government focal points should complete the next survey questionnaire comprehensively, consult colleagues in other departments and involve civil society organisations and mental health advocates in the process.
  • The adoption of common metrics for mental health research by funders and researchers to increase the usefulness of the data, whilst cultural adaptation and coordinated development of new measurement scales in consultation with people with lived experience should also be considered.
  • Mental health data from unofficial sources – academic institutions, CSOs, private sector organisations, polling organisations –  can play a vital role in filling data gaps. This is especially true of people and communities frequently excluded from official data collection exercises. Therefore the promotion and use of unofficial sources should be encouraged by all actors.
  • Longitudinal studies on mental health, in particular, should be encouraged and supported by funders and governments as they are especially useful to inform decision-making on what works across the spectrum of promotion, prevention, treatment and recovery.