What the Latest Mental State of the World Report Says About Our Declining State of Mind

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Key Takeaways

• The Mental State of the World Report has been published, and the US is near the bottom.

• The 'Core Anglosphere' region as a whole scored low, with the UK joint-bottom.

• More individualistic societies tended to score poorly, with collectivist societies ranking higher.

• Globally, the mental health of young adults is declining.

The Mental Health Million Project has published its annual Mental State of the World report, and while there’s been a smaller decline in mental wellbeing relative to 2020, the US is notably far down on the list.

This annual publication aims to chart the evolving mental wellbeing of the global "Internet-enabled population”. The Mental Health Million Project base the results in the latest report on 223,087 responses across 34 countries, and found that the mental health of young people worldwide is declining and that mental well-being overall is lowest in English-speaking countries. 

In the US, the average Mental Health Quotient (MHQ) has declined by 3% from the previous report to 63%. The only countries of the 34 surveyed that were found to be lower are Egypt, New Zealand, Iraq, India, Ireland, Australia, United Kingdom, and South Africa. 

Meanwhile, the percentage of people describing themselves as distressed and/or struggling in the US increased by 4% up to 29%. Across the Core Anglosphere (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand) 30% of respondents were either distressed or struggling, with 36% thriving or succeeding. 

In contrast, the report found that mental well-being tended to be higher in Latin American and non-English speaking European countries. Of the top ten countries, eight were from one of these categories, the other two being the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Singapore. 

What Are The Factors?

While economic prosperity is often associated with better mental health, there are a number of factors that can play a part. For example, the report found a negative correlation between more stringent coronavirus (COVID-19) regulations and MHQ (mental health quotient) scores, while cultural factors also played a role in determining the MHQ.

In general, countries with a culture focused more on success and individualism were lower on the scale than those with a culture that prioritizes group collectivism, loyalty, and social cohesion. 

Chris Papadopoulos, PhD

Collectivist their very nature of being collectivist, they will have strong social cohesion and connectedness which research has proved is highly protective for mental health.”

— Chris Papadopoulos, PhD

“Trying to fully decipher why people living in individualistic societies might have poorer mental health than people living in more collectivist societies is complex and multifaceted,” explains Chris Papadopoulos, PhD, Principal Lecturer in Public Health at the University of Bedfordshire. “However, to simplify it, you can say that individualistic societies, such as those in the US and UK, tend to have higher levels of social and economic inequalities.”

Dr. Papadopoulos explains that this leads to poverty and in turn a poorer quality of life for many people, something that can make them vulnerable to poorer mental health. Meanwhile, those who are wealthy can also struggle with the “slow and powerful realization that wealth and materialism is not the easy ticket to experiencing happiness that they were socialized to believe.”

He continues, “Collectivist societies, on the other hand, are less vulnerable to these social divisions and instead tend to have better societal balance. By their very nature of being collectivist, they will have strong social cohesion and connectedness which research has proved is highly protective for mental health.”

What This Means For You

This report paints a concerning picture of our mental health, and there are a number of reasons as to why this might be the case. From social media and the Internet to social and economic inequalities, there are various factors. If you are struggling, you're not alone. Reach out to your healthcare provider or search online for help.

The Mental Health of Young People is Declining

Something evident from the report is that the mental well-being of young people is declining both in the US and across the world, and it appears that social media has a role to play here.

While it’s explained in the report that the use of smartphones and the Internet isn’t inherently negative, that young adults are spending more time online at the expense of interacting with people in person may be a factor in their declining mental health. 

Elena Touroni, PhD

When we’re young, our sense of identity is still forming which can leave us especially vulnerable.

— Elena Touroni, PhD

While only the responses of those aged 18 or over were recorded for the report, the younger adults surveyed would likely have grown up with social media—during adolescence, interactions with peers have a real impact on mental health. Social media has changed how people interact, making interactions with peers more frequent and more intense, and that may continue into young adulthood.

One study concerning students at the University of Pennsylvania found that limiting social media usage to around 30 minutes per day can lead to improvements in mental wellbeing. Over the course of three weeks, students were either assigned to carry on using social media as normal, or to limit their use of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to ten minutes a day each, and the latter group saw feelings of depression and loneliness decrease when compared to the control group.

Elena Touroni, PhD, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, says, “When we’re young, our sense of identity is still forming which can leave us especially vulnerable. Brands curate their social media feeds in a particular way in order to sell a product or convey a message. In a similar way, you could say that many personal accounts are also curated in the sense that they only show the most idealistic aspects of life.”

Dr. Touroni explains that young people, in particular, can be more vulnerable to “misplacing their self-worth with external factors,” equating what they see on social media with real life. This could have been exacerbated by the pandemic, too — studies have shown that it caused an increase in Internet addiction.

Looking at the Research

In terms of the research itself, it’s important to consider the varying demographics of the Internet-enabled population from country to country.

The populations of the West African nations in the report are generally much younger than the populations of the European countries, for example, with the Internet-enabled populations of the former generally more educated and more likely to be in employment, too. Age and gender demographics are taken into account when coming up with the MHQ, but education and employment aren’t. 

The scores here won’t necessarily be representative of the entire population of a country, particularly in countries where Internet use isn’t as widespread—here, the findings are more likely to represent groups within that country who are more educated or in higher socioeconomic groups. 

To find the MHQ of a country, individuals who contribute are positioned on a spectrum from ‘Distressed’ to ‘Thriving’, and five different aspects of mental wellbeing are measured: Mood & Outlook; Social Self; Drive and Motivation; Mind-Body Connection; Cognition.

As the spread of respondents across age and gender wasn’t always representative, to calculate the MHQ the scores for each age-gender group were first considered, before a weighted average was found based on the relative proportions of each demographic in that country.

The Mental State of the World Report might not be representative of us all, but it’s a good indicator, and the findings should make concerning reading. 

3 Sources
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  2. Nesi J. The impact of social media on youth mental health: Challenges and opportunitiesN C Med J. 2020;81(2):116-121. doi:10.18043/ncm.81.2.116

  3. Hunt MG, Marx R, Lipson C, Young J. No more FOMO: Limiting social media decreases loneliness and depressionJ Soc Clin Psychol. 2018;37(10):751-768. doi:10.1521/jscp.2018.37.10.751