Mental health – the silent pandemic and the quest for happiness

The pandemic may be officially at an end. But the world remains in grip of another, arguably every bit as destructive pandemic: a global rise in so-called diseases of despair, including anxiety, depression, and social alienation. The latest figures from WHO indicate that 1 in 8 people worldwide lives with a mental health disorder. To better understand how society regards mental health and what role brands can and should play in contributing to solutions, Havas commissioned a survey on this very topic.

In the first quarter of 2023, Havas fielded a survey among some 13,000 women and men in 30 markets worldwide to explore the so-called silent pandemic, which until recently was discussed in hushed tones, if at all. Our aim: to better understand how society regards mental health and what role brands can and should play in contributing to solutions. We discovered a distinct societal shift in which personal well-being has become a focal point of concern and action, along with compelling evidence that the youngest members of society are especially susceptible to mental health challenges. 

The prevalence of mental health issues has reached the stage at which nearly 9 in 10 Prosumers consider it “one of the most concerning issues of our times.” 

As society struggles to come to grips with the modern-day mental health crisis, two shifts have materialized: First, personal well-being has become a social duty. Second, happiness is now a medical norm. 

Well-being isn’t just a personal affair any longer. How individuals feel affects the entire community, and so we see that 9 in 10 Prosumers believe that addressing mental health issues is crucial for society overall. 

Looking at the mental state of each generation, the results show that over half of Generation Z feel more mentally unwell than they did before the pandemic. For comparison only 27% of boomer generation feels this way. 

Nevertheless, a large majority of both generations agree that mental health is just as important as physical health. 

Happiness is now an expectation. If we are unhappy, there is a problem to be solved. 

Written in 1948, the preamble to the constitution of the World Health Organization declares, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This more holistic concept of health has steadily gained ground in the decades since.  

There’s plenty to feel bad about. 

Turns out we’re a long way from alright. 

Apart from individual struggles, the current mental health pandemic can be linked to several facets of modern life. Among them: hyperconsumerism, the rise of social media and digital addiction, a lack of interpersonal interaction, and our disconnectedness from the natural world. Add to this the global energy crisis, rising sea levels, two wars, and it’s a wonder any of us is still sane. 

The curse of social media. 

There is an absurd contradiction. 37% of Gen Z vs. Boomers say that when they are depressed, they turn to social media for answers. Ironically, this might be making things worse. 

Today’s youth have never known a time when they couldn’t connect with the world via smartphone and social media—and that has had a psychological impact. A three-year study in the U.S. by leading experts in psychiatry and public health found, for instance, that adolescents who spent more than three hours a day on social media doubled their risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes, including depression and anxiety.  

What’s the solution? 

Our study reveals two potential pathways to progress: medical intervention or a change in modern lifestyles. 

Most respondents would like to see treatments for a broad range of mental health issues—from eating and sleeping disorders to depression and stress—covered by medical insurance, which suggests a widespread belief that there are pharmacological cures for most of the mental health issues that ail us. 

Two thirds two-thirds of Prosumers regard anxiety as an illness that needs to be cured with drugs. Not surprisingly, then, we see that the market for the treatment of global anxiety disorders and depression reached $8.5 billion in 2019—and is expected to soar to more than $13 billion by 2027. 

51% of Gen Z and 42% of boomer generation prosumers believe anxiety is a disorder that can be treated with medication, but at the same time, half also blame pharmaceutical brands for the rise in the number of depressed patients who grow addicted to antidepressants. 

On the other hand, many people hold “Big Pharma” responsible for the increasing number of depressed people who have 

become addicted to treatment medications. We see, for instance, that half of Prosumers blame pharma companies for the widespread addiction to antidepressants. It’s a complicated situation with no easy answers regarding how to ensure that effective treatments are available to those who need them without putting patients at undue risk. 

How should brands act? 

Consumer-facing brands have a dual role in addressing this silent pandemic. The past decade has seen a proliferation of corporate wellness offerings, and that intensified during the first two years of COVID-19.  

37% of Prosumers want to see their employers offer mental health support, suggesting that such offerings not only have legitimacy but are increasingly an expected part of benefits packages. In several countries—Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Côte D’Ivoire, and South Africa—agreement on this statement exceeded 50%. 

More than ever, brands have a compelling reason to focus on their consumers’ mental health and contribute at least in part in finding solutions for the growing situation. However, i tis crucial to to be responsive, responsible and run campaigns in a meaningful and most of all self-aware way. 

Here are four important takeaways from this study: 

  • First, mental health issues are a symptom of a broader disease infecting modern society. Everyday economic pressures, social alienation (including loneliness), and a disconnect from nature are all major sources of our collective distress. 
  • Second, the youth are especially impacted by this issue and find themselves trapped in a destructive cycle in which social media serves as both remedy and culprit. 
  • Third, two methods seem to be emerging to address this societal challenge: medical and meaningful lifestyle change. 
  • Fourth, brands now possess greater legitimacy to address mental health issues and should use the opportunity to educate, raise awareness, and contribute to solutions. 
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