Millions of people in South Asia are affected by mental illness.

Yet this is largely ignored by governments and often even international development agencies.

For every individual struggling with mental illness, many others also suffer. This is especially true for women and girls, who often have to give up jobs and education to care for a relative with a mental illness.

But the good news is that with the right care and support mental health problems can be effectively treated. This leads to happier individuals, fewer people falling into poverty, and better life chances for women and children, and especially girls.

Our five big reasons for focusing on mental health in South Asia

Millions of people in South Asia experience extreme poverty, food insecurity, natural disasters and physical illness or disability – these are all risk factors for mental illness, and so it is not surprising that so many struggle with mental health problems.


of people in the world who have mental health problems live in low or middle-income countries

This is why Jaya Mental Health is determined to reach and support as many people as possible.

It is very common for communities in South Asia to ostracise and discriminate against people with a mental illness. There is very little education or awareness around mental health, and it is commonly believed that mental illness is the result of evil spirits or punishment for immoral behaviour.

Human rights abuses are also common, including families even chaining up or caging a relative to avoid public shame.

“Before getting help from Jaya Mental Health, some people used to get scared and run away when they saw me. I use to think, “Why are they afraid of me?”, and felt hurt and sad.”

Chandra, a patient at our mental health walk-in clinic in Eastern Nepal

This is why Jaya Mental Health is working hard to challenge misconceptions and prejudices, and advocating on behalf of people with a mental health problem.

It is estimated that 76 to 85% of people with serious mental disorders do not receive treatment in low-income countries

Most low-income countries in South Asia spend less than 1% of their healthcare budget on mental healthcare. Treatment is usually non-existent – when it is available it’s generally totally inadequate.

On top of this, many healthcare professionals labelled as mental health workers have received no training, and they can even be prejudiced towards people with mental problems themselves.

In low-income countries, the number of mental health workers can be as small as 2 per 100,000 people, compared with more than 70 in high-income countries.

This is why Jaya Mental Health is focused on training, equipping and empowering existing healthcare professionals in South Asia so they can provide high-quality mental health support.

In South Asia, there is a close link between mental illness and poverty, homelessness and other forms of disadvantage.

This is because people with a mental health problem may not be able to work due to a lack of treatment. Or they may lose their job or be denied work opportunities because of prejudice and discrimination.

This is why Jaya Mental Health is committed to reaching the most vulnerable and helping them get the support they need so they can secure employment.

When mental illness is treated incredible things can happen.

Good mental health not only means healthier and happier individuals; it can also lead to positive change in many other areas too.

Helps people escape from poverty

Receiving the right treatment can help a person to continue working or secure a job – giving them the chance to lift themselves and their family out of poverty.

Saves the lives of mothers and their children

In developing countries mental illness is a particular problem amongst new mothers – many then struggle to look after their babies and other children, leading to neglect, hunger and even death. Suicide is a major cause of death for this group of women.

Treating maternal mental health problems keeps children safe and helps families to flourish.

Keeps girls in school

In South Asian countries, when there’s mental illness in the family it’s often girls who suffer the most. They are the ones most likely to take on the role of carers and to miss out on school. Factors such as gender discrimination and violence, and child marriage put girls at high risk of struggling with mental illness themselves. Without supportive communities girls are further at risk from dropping out of school.

"Before coming to the clinic I felt frightened and fearful of everything and everyone.All that has changed now, I feel much better and happier - I feel completely different."

Bimala, a patient at our mental health walk-in clinic in Eastern Nepal