From ‘Invisible Problem’ to Global Priority: The Inclusion of Mental Health in the Sustainable Development Goals


Mills, C. (2018). Development and Change,49(3), pp. 843–866: doi:10.1111/dech.12397

Perceptions regarding the importance of mental health are shifting at a global level. Once described as an ‘invisible problem’ in international development, mental health is now being framed as one of the most pressing development issues of our time. Concern over the historical absence of mental health from the development agenda — despite its being regarded as a major obstacle to development — has led to its recent inclusion in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This article critically examines three intersecting axes key to its inclusion in the SDGs: 1) the conceptualization and calculation of the contribution of mental disorder to the global burden of disease; 2) the quantification of mental disorder as an economic burden; and 3) the relationship between mental distress and poverty. The article highlights the urgent need to foster a more nuanced understanding of the interplay between mental health and development, and shows how, at times, interventions in the two fields work together in producing reductionist, economistic, individualized and psychologized responses to poverty. Read more