The Menlo Roundtable

Mental Health as a Critical Factor in Uplifting Women and Accelerating Economic Growth in the Developing World: A Case Study of India

This paper explores the importance of mental health as a critical factor in delivering successful individual and societal outcomes for women in the developing world.

India is used as a case study to explore the vicious cycle between poverty and mental illness that can and often does afflict women, their families, and the economic prospects for the country. There is a bidirectional relationship between economic standing and mental health. While mental illness among women in under-resourced populations is often considered solely a matter of an individual woman’s mental and emotional fragility, poverty itself is an important contributing factor to an individual’s mental wellbeing. Therefore, mental health remediation should go hand and hand with poverty remediation as the benefits of doing so not only bolster the emotional well-being of women but also benefit the economy as a whole. Improved mental health results in greater productivity and wealth for society as a whole. To prove this thesis, the remainder of the paper will examine long-standing societal attitudes towards mental illness and review the relative underinvestment in treatment options. It then analyzes the specific situational factors that result in impoverished Indian women shouldering significant familial responsibilities, facing traditional gender expectations without financial agency, and the corresponding impact this has on their mental health. The latter part of the paper considers methods that can alleviate this cycle and looks at example programs that have proven successful. It concludes with policy recommendations for further research.

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