Background: Population-based studies provide the understanding of health-need required for effective public health policy and service-planning. Mental disorders are an important but, until recently, neglected agenda in global health. This paper reviews the coverage and limitations in global epidemiological data for mental disorders and suggests strategies to strengthen the data.
Methods: Systematic reviews were conducted for population-based epidemiological studies in mental disorders to inform new estimates for the global burden of disease study. Estimates of population coverage were calculated, adjusted for study parameters (age, gender and sampling frames) to quantify regional coverage.
Results: Of the 77,000 data sources identified, fewer than 1% could be used for deriving national estimates of prevalence, incidence, remission, and mortality in mental disorders. The two major limitations were (1) highly variable regional coverage, and (2) important methodological issues that prevented synthesis across studies, including the use of varying case definitions, the selection of samples not allowing generalization, lack of standardized indicators, and incomplete reporting. North America and Australasia had the most complete prevalence data for mental disorders while coverage was highly variable across Europe, Latin America, and Asia Pacific, and poor in other regions of Asia and Africa. Nationally-representative data for incidence, remission, and mortality were sparse across most of the world.
Discussion: Recent calls to action for global mental health were predicated on the high prevalence and disability of mental disorders. However, the global picture of disorders is inadequate for planning. Global data coverage is not commensurate with other important health problems, and for most of the world's population, mental disorders are invisible and remain a low priority.