Nowadays there is an awakening of interest in the international community to understand mental illness in its different manifestations and societal impact, and to identify ways to effectively deal with these often misunderstood, neglected and stigmatized conditions.
The debate in the United States on how to change a health system that is geared to treat illnesses to one that focuses on preventing people from getting sick stirred my curiosity on how companies can improve employee health. After all, employees spend most of their waking hours at the workplace.
If economists view mental health as one component of human capital, as we typically view physical health, then it’s a natural step to the corollary view that good mental health leads to productivity enhancing behaviors such as increased labor supply, greater effort, enhanced concentration, and so on. Given its productive role perhaps mental health, often neglected in the policy realm, deserves more attention. Unfortunately there are precious few studies till date that actually establish such a link between psychological health and productivity.
For decades, the leading causes of mortality have differed between low income countries and high income countries. Those who have worked their careers in health and development probably never thought they would see the day when maternal/child health and communicable diseases would not be the leading health burden in many low income countries.
The new actor is non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which are characterized by chronic diseases (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory disease), along with injury and mental health which are now responsible for half the health burden in South Asia. Thus, the challenge now is how best to juggle this “double burden”.
Currently, many compelling reasons are pushing countries toward starting to tackle NCDs. From both a social and political standpoint, South Asians are 6 years younger than those in the rest of the world at their first heart attack. This type of trend threatens a country’s ability to fully capitalize on the demographic dividend from a larger mature working force because healthy aging is necessary, which in turn, requires tackling NCDs.