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The Costs Of Neglecting To Invest In Mental Health

The World Health Organization defines mental health as the absence of mental illness, and the promotion of mental well-being and meaning in a person’s life. Adverse impacts on mental health can result in mental illness, and in some cases, neurodevelopmental disorders.

Investing in mental health is more than just addressing mental illness; it’s about promoting well-being and meaning in life. Human mental health and well-being are paramount when policy considerations and investments by governments are made (Berger, et al, 2019).

Essentially, education systems and social welfare organisations need factoring in. There is a dire need to invest in mental health services, the employment sector, justice systems, and corrections (Sapthiang, et al, 2019, Faeq, et al, 2022, Stasch, et al, 2018). Each of these areas affect mental health, demonstrating the breadth of areas in government and public sectors that need to invest in addressing it. What are the costs of choosing not to invest in mental health? Are there certain strategies to invest in? Can we begin to bring about better social conditions and mental well-being broadly? 

how can we invest in mental health?

Initially, there are many areas in which legislation that seeks to invest in mental health can deliver better intellectual health outcomes for society. Naturally, these link to areas that uphold greater mental well-being, and include:

Other areas of legislation include ensuring support for (and intervention in) the well-being of children. In turn, early distress can be circumvented, producing overall better well-being for children later in life. Household abuse can be prevented through more effective strategies targeting parenting (Berger, et al, 2019). Better animal welfare laws also link to this holistically (Ladny, et al, 2020). Thus, bullying is targeted within education systems and all forms of employment (Faeq, et al, 2022).

Better animal welfare laws link to investing in mental health holistically.
Better animal welfare laws are linked to better mental health resources.

Better mental health services and access at a community level must be provided. More promotion is needed to educate the masses about mental well-being. The promotion of mindfulness and mental health strategies within the workplace is paramount (Faeq, et al, 2022). Better standards to ensure individual well-being in judicial systems and corrective services are essential (Stasch, e al, 2018).

Meaningful voluntary work, community support, and engagement in mental prosperity

Accordingly, there are a great number of studies that reflect how meaningful community activities such as volunteering are. Those living with mental illness

and the elderly experience significantly positive mental health outcomes when volunteering (Bourassa, et al, 2015). This includes subsidised volunteer work, as well as community participation. Meaningful employment also has a positive impact on mental health. It provides a feeling of satisfaction in the workplace (Allen, et al, 2016). We see a greater rate of mental health issues where certain standards are lacking. Poor mental health, requiring greater healthcare expenditure, is imminent in these cases. To address this, it currently costs Australia many tens of billions each year (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare).

A lack of exposure to green areas in an increasingly urbanised world has obvious implications for future mental health.
A lack of exposure to green areas in an increasingly urbanised world has obvious implications for the future.

Green cities and conservation spaces 

Green spaces, such as conservation areas in our increasingly urbanised world, have a significant impact on mental health (Callaghan, et al, 2020; Nutsford, et al, 2013). Primarily, governing bodies must invest, to mitigate mental health issues proactively. Ensuring a supportive and vibrant community, and naturally protected areas within green cities (Artmann, et al, 2019). A lack of exposure to green areas in an increasingly urbanised world has obvious implications for future mental health.

Addressing mental illness is about promoting mental well-being and meaning in life.
Promoting the presence of meaning in life is a global issue.

Promotion of mindfulness

An ecological setting may provide better mental health outcomes, specifically when it comes to education and employment. Preventing bullying should be prioritised as something that can lead to adverse mental illness. Promoting mindfulness within the workplace is also favoured (Faeq, et al, 2022). Policy-level education of employers must be undertaken. This is to ensure a combatting of workplace exploitation and bullying. Promoting better mental health strategies and templates for mindfulness would favour workplace structure (Faeq, et al, 2022). 

Emphatically, concerns such as high suicide rates and cardiovascular disease are unfortunately prevalent. Worker burnout and pent-up stress occur where workplace bullying is prevalent. Unfortunately, mental health strategies like mindfulness just don’t exist in many workplaces and communities. In one study on the impact of burnout and workplace stress on healthcare workers, the cumulative loss of productivity was trillions.

Better mental health services at a community level 

Indeed, mindfulness is one approach that workplaces can take to advocate for better mental health. The promotion of services at a community level, and within education systems, is also essential. Strategies to prevent bullying, and foster emotional and social well-being at a policy level, (through mindfulness) need promotion. It’s a cost-effective way to address intellectual health issues in schools, and for adolescents broadly, allowing greater learning and achievement. At a community level, beyond this, the value of physical exercise must be promoted. It already is in developed nations. Access to natural areas is important, promoting free mental health care and psychotherapy.

The promotion of mental health services at a community level, and within education systems, is also essential.
. The promotion of services at a community level, and within education systems is essential.

support and intervention for children

Effective prevention strategies must be implemented. Fostering the prevention of mental health issues transferred to small children is essential. This is particularly relevant for infants. We must prevent abuse, neglect, and inadequate parenting. One in every four children has experienced abuse of some sort, with many cases going unnoticed by child services. Optimum mental health must be facilitated within the public sector. Public services must be infused with mindfulness, psychotherapeutic and holistic approaches.

Overall, policy should not just be focused on targeting households prone to abuse exposure. It should holistically facilitate awareness of the socioeconomic struggles some family units experience (Berger, et al, 2019). Policy should promote the commonality of psychological and emotional abuse and neglect (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2015).

Parents must use effective parenting strategies and invest in their child's well-being.
Parents must use effective parenting strategies to invest in their children.

Emotional abuse has a greater maltreatment rate than all other abuse types. Re-victimisation happens often, so extremely vital that this is addressed (Fabricio Gama, et al, 2021). Like PTSD, social deprivation through neglect can also result in neurodevelopmental disorders which have severe impacts on mental well-being and can create severe impairment.

Effective Parenting Strategies: Investing in mental health

Concurrently, from 2014-2015 in Australia, nearly half of the children who were involved in child protection experienced emotional abuse. A quarter reported neglect as their primary experience, which together comprised over two-thirds of all reported cases. According to other studies, 78% of abused children experienced neglect (Brown, et al, 2022). By taking a systems perspective to address this, a greater effort will be made to support vulnerable groups and promote greater awareness (Bennouna, et al, 2018). Mindfulness and social sustainability should be interwoven at a policy level(Sajjad, 2020).  

preventative measures

The prevention of abuse and exposure to inadequate parenting should be undertaken holistically to discourage any kind of neglect. To begin across the board, recognition of mental illness is a key component. 71% of child abuse or maltreatment is perpetrated by a biological parent. This includes psychological, emotional, sexual, and physical abuse and neglect (Berger, et al, 2019). At the very least, much greater education should be provided to struggling households. This is particularly necessary when parents and guardians suffer from mental illness (Berger, et al, 2019).

Support for families

A similar counteracting of unequal child support systems should be followed at a policy level within education systems (Bennouna, et al, 2018). By pursuing this, greater support can be provided for disadvantaged parents and children. It is there that gaps in support can be mitigated (Bennouna, et al, 2018). It is important to ensure public services are able to deliver support for this and mental health broadly, which is not an option for many (Lonn, et al, 2019). Supporting and focusing on greater mental well-being will improve the end result for parents and children (Marshal-Lee, et al, 2020).

It is clear that the investment in mental health and well-being, from childhood through to adulthood, is essential.
Support for parents and children is lacking.

When systems do not invest in prevention and mental health focuses (Marshall-Lee, et al, 2020), compensatory responses are made to perpetrated abuse. To ascertain the impact of a lack of investment in mental health and prevention of child maltreatment, one only has to look at recent statistics, where there’s a lack of prevention. 43.7% of adults have recently experienced mental illness, and adults diagnosed with a mental illness for a period over 12 months sit at 21.4%. This definitely could have been curbed through earlier prevention strategies. Costs could be reduced in public expenditure through prevention, both economically and socially (Crocker, et al, 2022).

Avoiding judicial system corruption: rehabilitation 

By the time people end up in corrective services, they may already demonstrate that a lack of preventative investment was made. There is a failure of social and child welfare, a lack of community promotion of mental health, and no support for education systems (Sapthiang, et al, 2019). Too many people with neurodevelopmental disorders end up in corrective services (Young, et al, 2018). Within corrective services, it is vital that both mental health is supported and rehabilitation is the focus. This would ensure more optimum social outcomes and intellectual well-being (Butorac, et al, 2017).

incarceration comparisons

We can see a stark contrast by comparing two types of prison systems: those of Scandinavia and Germany, and those of the United States (Butorac, et al, 2017). Adequate attempts at safeguarding mental well-being within prison systems in Germany and Scandinavia have resulted in highly effective systems. These feature high rehabilitation rates and extremely low levels of recidivism (Butorac, et al, 2017). The prison systems in these countries aren’t focused on punishing individuals. Instead, they’re targeting rehabilitating inmates. The process is undertaken by utilising systems that support mental well-being. Through counselling, psychotherapy, and assistance with rehabilitation, the causes of crimes are addressed.

A lower percentage of inmates exist when compared to the United States (Butorac, et al, 2017). Within the United States, private prisons also exist that profit from high inmate turnover (Gotsch, et al, 2018), with little focus on rehabilitation. Corruption has been rife, and high levels of crime have not been mitigated (Wakeham, 2023).

To ascertain the impact of a lack of investment in mental health, one only has to look at recent statistics, where there's a lack of prevention.
Corruption has been rife, and high levels of crime have not been mitigated (Wakeham, 2023).

The social costs of this are clear when compared to other models (Butorac, et al, 2017). While some studies find that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches within prison systems only have modest impacts on recidivism and repeat offending, this misses a vital factor (Beaudry, et al, 2017).

Is treatment an option?

As studies have shown, it is not simple psychological treatment that reduces recidivism. A therapeutic environment that enables proper treatment to address criminal impulses can result in decreased re-offending (Stastch, et al, 2018, Butorac, et al, 2017). Systems that provide for the individual psychology of inmates during incarceration and follow-up are needed at a policy level (Stasch, et al, 2018).

In the United States, laws introduced in the 1980s and 1990s resulted in mass incarceration and lengthy sentences. This has severely damaged and impacted upon the nature of prison systems. Concurrently, nontherapeutic environments exist and institutional corruption is rife (Wakeham, 2023). By repealing such laws and introducing psychotherapy-based environments, it is likely that there will be reduced criminality. This means a greater fostering of mental well-being. As it stands, countries with prison systems, like Germany, have far fewer cases of criminality, compared with the United States.

Moving forward

In conclusion, it is clear that the investment in mental health and well-being, at a community level, and from childhood through to adulthood, is essential, if we aim to mitigate the potential of adverse mental health. Investment is essential to preventing further social and economic costs to society that can later incur. By preventing maltreatment at a community level, beginning with safeguarding a child’s mental well-being in the home, it is less likely that there will be economic costs in a number of areas.

why Is it essential that we focus on Neglecting To Invest In Mental Health?

Through prevention at a school level, mitigating workplace issues can minimise economic loss and required expenditure. Impacts affecting law enforcement and the demand for corrective services can also be minimised. We must ensure that corrective services provide adequate mental health safeguards. Rehabilitation through psychotherapy can create adverse improvements, and we can ensure repeat offences and continued criminality doesn’t exist. Thus, government policy is called to foster rehab within different institutions, from child protection to prison systems. Greater mitigation of crime has economic costs. Investing in mental health is more than just addressing mental illness; it’s about promoting mental well-being and meaning in life. Governing bodies need to foster a healthier, more Thrivable society and invest in mental health.

achieving the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs)

Mental health concerns us all and is key to health and well-being. As a subject that’s particularly relevant to Sustainable Development Goal three, but borrows from many other SDGs-from education and economic growth to conflict and climate change. Global prosperity depends on mental health, and as a leading cause of the global burden of disease, mental illness causes a consistent amount of suffering globally. People living with mental illness are more likely to develop physical health problems and have poorer physical health outcomes, including higher rates of premature mortality.

A Thrivable Framework

The THRIVE Project invests interest in issues fundamental to the integrity of our society. This means examining issues related to social well-being and mental health. Safeguarding human well-being in all domains is paramount to THRIVE’s mission. Thrive strongly supports an inclusive society where everyone can live safe, mentally healthy lives, and thrive with a strong sense of self.

To learn more about how The THRIVE Project is researching, educating, and advocating for a future beyond sustainability, visit our website. You can follow our informative blog and podcast series and learn about our regular live webinars featuring expert guests in the field. Sign up for our newsletter for regular updates.


  • Michael Hill

    Research Assistant at Thrive. Michael has a Masters Degree in Politics and Policy, has studied Law, and has experience within the public sector. His main areas of interest are social welfare, animal welfare and environmental conservation as well as institutional integrity. He has conducted previous research on political communication strategies and framing theory.