Dylan Matthew in Vox:
When people think of ways to help the world’s poor, a few obvious ideas come to mind: giving them cash; preventing diseases like malaria through the distribution of bed nets and pills; treating HIV/AIDS in areas ravaged by those conditions; and other tactics that take aim at economic privation and infectious diseases. That focus is understandable and necessary — but what if it elides a different way of thinking about easing suffering in the world? What if there was a real opportunity to improve the lives of low-income people by devoting resources toward their mental well-being, too?
A new report raises that intriguing prospect. Written by Michael Plant, Joel McGuire, and Barry Grimes of the Happier Lives Institute, a research center that aims to find evidence-based ways to improve happiness worldwide, the study looks at the role therapy can play in improving lives in the developing world.
To date, global health efforts have mostly focused on illnesses of the body: malaria, vitamin deficiency, HIV/AIDS prevention, tuberculosis. Obviously, such diseases can affect the mind, and canonically “mental” illnesses like depression can take a physical toll. But historically, mental well-being has simply never gotten equal billing. Until 2015, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals didn’t even include benchmarks for mental health, even as they focused heavily on infectious diseases and markers of physical health. Through the increased use of tools like randomized controlled trials, policymakers have gotten better at understanding what really works in raising incomes and treating diseases among the world’s poorest people, and what doesn’t. That’s great, but it also may have led to some complacency — the idea that we already know what works.