Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 16, 2024

Perspectives on mental health around the world

By CLAIRE GOUDREAU | November 29, 2018

The University’s undergraduate population boasts students from 62 different countries, with 11 percent of the current freshman class being international students. With this cultural diversity comes a mix of perspectives, cultures and experiences, especially in regard to mental health. In response to increased globalization over the last century, many countries have seen stigma against and support networks for the mentally ill change. Regardless, most cultures still have perspectives about mental illness that greatly reflect their regions’ traditions.


Argentina has the highest number of psychologists per capita in the world. In Buenos Aires, there are 1,280 psychologists per 100,000 people, and that number is growing. For every student who graduates from a psychology program, 2.6 more enter. Their therapy of choice? Psychoanalysis. As a result, many residents report that there is reduced stigma surrounding seeking treatment for mental health issues.


China’s psychiatric system was dismantled after the Communist Party seized power in 1949. Since socialism was supposed to fill the people with enthusiasm and contentedness, those displaying symptoms of depression risked being seen as traitors. Because of this, few people were diagnosed until the 1990s. Today, over 100 million Chinese people live with a mental illness, but only six percent of them seek mental health treatment. China has only 1.7 psychiatrists (most of whom are not fully qualified) for every 100,000 people. 

“The last generation, like my mom and my dad, think mental issues are a disease and don’t want to face it,” Chinese student Annie Gao said. “Most of my classmates in China during the past 10 years have thought about committing suicide. Two years ago during the college entrance examination there was one boy who jumped from the second floor 30 minutes after the exam started. He didn’t die.”


According to the World Happiness Report, Finland is the world’s happiest country. It is also one of the many countries whose public health care offers the alternative of online therapy. Patients have access to computer-assisted behavioral therapy for depression, alcoholism and anxiety and can message mental health professionals if needed. Although the practice has faced international skepticism, preliminary evidence suggests that the therapy works just as well as traditional face-to-face sessions.


In India, mental illness remains highly stigmatized. When asked their feelings about the mentally ill, 47 percent of Indians report feeling “judgement” and 26 percent report “fear.” Sixty percent of Indians believe mental illnesses are caused by a lack of self-discipline and willpower and believe that the mentally ill should have their own groups so they don’t “contaminate” others. According to the World Health Organization, even though one in five Indians will suffer from depression in their lifetime, only 10 percent will seek help.


Although pasung (the practice of shackling and confining those with mental illness) was banned in 1977, it still remains a widespread practice in Indonesia. About 57,000 Indonesians have been shackled or locked in confined spaces as treatment for a perceived mental illness at least once. Currently, an estimated 18,800 people are receiving this “treatment.”


Norway offers some of the most comprehensive mental health care in the world, with psychiatric casualty clinics (which also serve as mental health emergency rooms) and the option of medication-free treatment. However, the system has fallen victim to abuse. In 2017 it was reported that at least 40 patients had received electroconvulsive (electroshock) therapy without their consent.

South Africa

Over half of mentally ill South Africans consult traditional or faith healers rather than therapists or psychologists. Those who do seek Western treatment through public mental health care take a gamble. In 2017 it was reported that at least 94 of the country’s mental health patients had died after being prematurely removed from public facilities and placed in community ones. Causes of death included dehydration, starvation, cold and general lack of care. Some died within days of the move.

The United States

Approximately one in five American adults experience mental illness in a given year, but only 41 percent of this subset have received mental health services in the past year.

These numbers are even worse for college-aged students, of whom one in four have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Thirty-one percent of college students have reported feeling so depressed in the past year that it was difficult to function, and more than 50 percent have reported feeling overwhelming anxiety. Mental illness is also a major reason for students dropping out of college, with 64 percent of college dropouts citing it as a leading cause.

Mental health has also become the forefront of recent political debates, with President Donald Trump responding to recent gun violence by saying that mass shootings are “a mental health problem at the highest level” and calling the Las Vegas shooter a “very sick man” and a “demented person.”


“There is almost zero consideration for mental health issues in Vietnam,” Vietnamese student Thế Anh Trần said. “Recently there have been student-led initiatives trying to get more awareness for mental health, but there’s lots of ignorance around the issues.” 

A 2006 World Health Organization report found that the country had only 30 mental hospitals, with a total of 5,000 beds. Those in remote areas have less access to mental health resources.

Have a tip or story idea?
Let us know!

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.

Alumni Weekend 2024
Leisure Interactive Food Map
The News-Letter Print Locations
News-Letter Special Editions