Are you struggling to sleep, eat, connect with yourself and others? Do you feel stuck, struggle with fatigue, stiff muscles or indigestion? Do you feel too much or too little? Do you suffer from a chronic lack of motivation or struggle to hold down a job? Are you lonely? Do you struggle with alcohol or substance overuse? What about anxiety, panic attacks or depression? Maybe a feeling of hopelessness and a lack of general direction in life? Are you always trying to save others? Do you experience fear, shame, guilt, issues with intimacy and sex? Are you unreasonably worried, and unable to relax?

If you have a hard time controlling violent behaviour, including episodes of rage, experience thoughts of suicide, or struggle with love and relationships, if you have been a victim of a bad car accident, war, a violent robbery, sexual abuse, domestic violence, bullying, child abuse, even childhood neglect, or suspect that an emotional issue is holding you back from reaching your goals, be it weight loss goals, improving your relationships, or your performance at work, you could be experiencing the remnants of hidden psychological trauma.

Throughout our lives, an alarming percentage of us has been significantly hurt in ways that cannot be seen from the outside. Many of us are struggling with the effects of psychological traumas we may not even be aware of. Psychological trauma is a response to an event that a person finds highly stressful, and results from exposure to an incident or series of events that are emotionally disturbing or life-threatening. We are surrounded by the manifestations of trauma that show up in our culture, our politics, our professional environments, and our personal lives, but yet we don’t talk about it, and we don’t get help and treatment for it.

What we don’t deal with within ourselves, we pass on to our children. Trauma is like a virus, constantly spreading from person to person, undetected, household to household, and generation to generation. Without addressing trauma within ourselves, we perpetuate the suffering around us that comes from harmful post-traumatic responses. Trauma is at the heart of all emotional and psychological problems. Left untreated, these emotional problems lead to more serious mental illness that is more disruptive to our lives and economies. We only recognise trauma as serious when symptoms get out of hand and people require costly psychiatric interventions. However, just because we aren’t paying attention doesn’t mean that the scourge isn’t working to undermine our wellbeing and wreaking havoc on our private and public lives.

I’m a recovering workaholic; not necessarily by choice. For the past two years, I have been mostly at home and in and out of hospitals, disabled and struggling with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Bipolar, two more extreme eventualities on the spectrum of unattended trauma. I haven’t produced much work or contributed greatly to society in this time. I have lost income and a livelihood, and the world has lost the economic contribution of my productive labour. That is just me. Burnouts and emotional/psychological breakdowns are happening more than you think, and many more people are going to fall out of the economic system and become disabled over the next few years if we don’t do something soon to change the trajectory of our current reality.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1 in 5 people will experience a mental health problem in their lives. Statistically, that tells us that at least each one of us will personally know someone who will suffer from a mental health problem, and it might even be ourselves. We can lessen this burden of malady significantly by investing in preventative care, addressing trauma before it deteriorates into more severe mental illness and the attendant disability. We can reduce the duration of treatment and cut costs on all fronts if care becomes available earlier for people who are at risk. Statistically, it’s possible to know which groups of people will likely suffer mental health problems.

Loss of income, isolation, fear, the unrelenting pressure of modern life, and bereavement have exacerbated existing mental health conditions or triggered others during the COVID-19 pandemic. Half of all mental health disorders begin before the age of 14, WHO data shows, and around a fifth of all children and adolescents suffer from a mental health condition. Figures from The Children’s Society show that in the last three years, the likelihood of young people having a mental health problem has increased by half.

People everywhere are suffering in silence from depression, increased alcohol and other drug use, and other mental illnesses due to trauma, a fear of social stigma, or because they are simply unable to obtain care. More than 8 in 10 people with mental health problems in low-income countries receive no help (World Economic Forum). Millions of people in Africa live in areas that suffer from severe shortages of mental health providers. Supporting children is especially critical to prevention.

The economic burden is enormous. The cost of mental health conditions and their related consequences is projected to rise to $6 trillion globally by 2030, from $2.5 trillion in 2010, according to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the World Economic Forum. According to a 2018 study by the Pennsylvania State University and Texas A&M University, the global cost of mental illness is expected to exceed $16 trillion over the next 20 years. That would make the cost of poor mental health greater than that of cancer, diabetes, and respiratory ailments combined. Up to 20% of the world’s working population has a mental health disorder at any given time. Based on a study of the world’s 36 largest countries, it’s estimated that 12 billion productive days are lost each year due to depression and anxiety alone, at a cost of $925 billion.

An emotionally healthy workforce is essential for maintaining global economic competitiveness. Between 2000 and 2015, Africa’s population grew by 49%, while the number of years lost to disability as a result of mental and substance use disorders increased by 52%. Currently, an estimated 100 million people in Africa suffer from clinical depression alone, including 66 million women. The World Bank considers it “the greatest thief of productive economic life”. As people around the world contend with the stress and social and economic disruptions from COVID-19, mental health has become a particular area of concern for policymakers and health practitioners. The demand for mental health services is set to surge in the next decade, yet governments in Africa aren’t really investing there. As a matter of fact, very few people are, even in the private sector.

The percentage of government health budgets spent on mental health stands at a meagre 2% globally (WHO), and is even lower in Africa. The World Health Organization’s 2021 Mental Health Atlas paints a dispiriting picture of a worldwide failure to provide mental health services to those who need them. The latest edition of the Atlas, which includes data from 171 countries, provides a clear indication that the increased attention given to mental health in recent years has yet to result in a scale-up of quality mental services that is aligned with needs.

A growing educated middle class with medical insurance and disposable income, and as stigma breaks and wellness and spirituality grow as subcultures among millennials and Generation Zs, as mobile phone usage spreads and digital access grows on the continent, the opportunity is there for whoever can successfully establish themselves as the dependable provider of mental health services, well in time for when everyone else awakens. The triggers for mental illness are growing, and our inability to escape them is significant in today’s super-connected world.


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