Effects of the current global economic downturn on population mental health will emerge in the years ahead. Judging from earlier experience of financial crises in various parts of the world, stresses associated with rising unemployment, poverty and social insecurity will lead to upward trends in many national suicide rates, as well as to less readily charted increase in the prevalence of psychiatric illness, alcohol-related disorders and illicit drug use. At the same time, mental health services are being cut back as part of government austerity programs. Budget cuts will thus affect psychiatric services adversely just when economic stressors are raising the levels of need and demand in affected populations. Proactive fiscal and social policies could, however, help to mitigate the health consequences of recession. Evidence- based preventive measures include active labor market and family support programs, regulation of alcohol prices and availability, community care for known high-risk groups, and debt relief projects. Economic mental health care could best be achieved, not by decimating services but by planning and deploying these to meet the needs of defined area populations.