Almost a billion people worldwide were affected by a mental disorder in 2019, just before the start of the pandemic, according to data published by the World Health Organization (WHO). Social and economic inequalities, as well as war and the climate crisis, were also among the factors contributing to the degraded well-being of the world’s population.
Last year, the WHO estimated that depression and anxiety had risen by more than 25% in the first year of the pandemic. But it would seem that the malaise runs much deeper, as people’s morale has not improved with the “return to normal”, as a new global study reveals.
Carried out by Edelman Data & Intelligence, this third edition of the Global Well-being Report surveyed respondents in 14 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canda, Australia, Japan, Singapore, China and New Zealand, with 1,000 people per market – a total of 14,000 participants.
The findings underline the importance of taking into account people’s mental health, and taking actions to bring about change. Malaysia was not involved in this survey.
The authors selected three criteria – physical well-being, mental well-being, and social well-being – to reflect the balance that enables people to feel good. The results show that well-being is now considered a priority for over two-thirds of the world’s population (67%), including 80% of Spaniards and 72% of Singaporeans and Thais, and, by contrast, 44% of Japanese and 62% of South Koreans.
In France, 68% of the population consider well-being to be a priority, but 40% consider it impossible to achieve. This figure rises to 44% worldwide, and even 48% in Thailand, Singapore and South Korea.
Only 12% of those surveyed worldwide believe that their well-being is where it should be.
On the global scale, more than one in three people say their well-being is the lowest it has ever been (34%). This sentiment is pronounced in Thailand (48%), Singapore (40%), and South Korea (39%), but much less so in Japan (20%), mainland China (28%) and France (29%).
The current state of the world and the foreseeable future are sources of worry, as 41% of the world’s population say they are discouraged when they think about it. Nevertheless, some populations are optimistic about the future: this is the case in China, where 67% are optimistic, compared with the global average of just 42%.
Impact of climate change and media
Looking at what’s standing in the way of respondents enjoying a higher level of well-being, climate change is cited as a key concern. More than four out of 10 people surveyed worldwide (41%) stated that it heightens their feelings of anxiety, compared with 59% of respondents in Thailand, 58% in South Korea, and 44% in Hong Kong.
Environmental issues are less of a source of anxiety for Germans (34%), Australians (34%), Canadians (35%), and New Zealanders (36%).
Global media coverage also plays a role in how anxious individuals feel. One in two of those surveyed say that certain topics in the news have an impact on their personal well-being, inflation being one of them.
More than half the world’s population (56%) say they are worried about how they will meet their needs in the face of ever-rising living costs, and 54% are alarmed about how their finances will be managed in the current year.
It’s worth noting that the Spaniards and the French are the ones who feel most affected by certain issues raised by the media, at 57%, while respondents in China (44%), Japan (46%), Canada (48%) and Singapore (48%) appear less so.
Societal expectations of all kinds also influence levels of well-being around the world. Internationally, nearly four out of 10 respondents (39%) consider that the pressure to conform to societal norms has a negative impact on their mental well-being. In Thailand, more than half the population suffers from this pressure.
And it’s a vicious circle, since such norms also play a role in whether individuals feel that they can speak freely about mental health. Worldwide, more than four out of 10 people (42%) say they feel obliged to feign happiness even when they’re down.
More than one in two respondents (55%) feel that “society is judgemental towards those who have lower mental well-being”.
Challenge of preserving mental health
Lack of time, lack of financial resources, and the taboos surrounding mental health are all obstacles that get in the way of people taking care of their well-being or seeking help. Respondents also signalled a lack of infrastructure, support or services dedicated to mental health.
Nearly three quarters of those surveyed (74%) consider that institutions do not do enough to facilitate the well-being of society, and seven out of 10 employees even feel that their employer has a responsibility to improve well-being.
And the level of well-being has consequences, both professionally and personally. On average, individuals miss five days of work a year owing to low well-being, compared with nine days in Germany and three in Japan. Internationally, employees also say they are less committed (48%) and less likely to accept responsibility (37%) when their well-being is low.
This would even have an impact on their role as a parent, since more than four out of 10 respondents worldwide (44%) feel they are “not the parent their children need them to be” when their well-being is low.
But individuals are seeking out solutions for feeling better. These include physical activity, setting limits in one’s professional and personal life, focusing on positive things, taking time for oneself, and simply expressing one’s needs freely to those closest to them.