Study: How miserable are South Africans compared to other countries?

A new concerning report from researchers at Sapien Labs shows the general mental well-being of people from over 70 countries worldwide, spanning nine geographic regions and 13 languages. According to the report, South Africans, along with people in the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan and Brazil are the unhappiest in the world.

Data collected by the study from across the world was compiled using a comprehensive online survey of cognitive and emotional capabilities. These stats were used to create an overall mental well-being metric (the MHQ score) that relates to the ability of people to navigate the normal stresses of life.

Among the many insights gained by this study, which has been conducted every year since 2020, is that people in wealthy countries aren’t necessarily the happiest, in fact, it is developing nations that feature in the top happiest countries.

Another concerning insight is that younger generations have shown the steepest decline in mental well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic, while those over 65 stayed relatively steady.

The data shows that South Africa and the United Kingdom are tied for the two countries with the most percentage of stressed and struggling people, with a percentage at 35 for both nations. Brazil follows these two countries at 34 percent.

South Africans are dealing with an economy growing at a snail’s pace in comparison to a booming population, record unemployment especially among young people, rampant proliferation of violent crime including rape, kidnapping and murder, and a government that has become synonymous with the looting of public funds and corruption.

These are a few of the reasons why the country’s general mental well-being is low.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka, Italy, and Georgia are the countries with the least percentage of distressed and struggling people. In terms of average mental health – based on average MHQ score – Uzbekistan is the country with the lowest mood score among its citizens at a score of 48.

The United Kingdom has the second-lowest mood score at 49, followed by South Africa at 50, rounding up at third place worldwide.

The lowest-scoring countries worldwide in terms of mental well-being.

South Africans also scored 52 for Social Self, 69 for Adaptability and Resilience, 70 for Drive and Motivation, 68 for Cognition and 61 for Mind-Body connection. In contrast, the happiest country in the world – the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean, scored 91 for Mood, 94 for Social Self, 110 for Adaptability and Resilience, 108 for Drive and Motivation, 101 for Cognition and 94 for Mind-Body connection.

The top-scoring African country is Tanzania at a Mood score of 90, followed by Nigeria, with a Mood score of 84.

The top 10 scoring countries worldwide in terms of mental well-being.

“The data presented here provides a barometer of the mental wellbeing of our global Internet-enabled society and its evolution over time,” the researchers who conducted the study explain.

“In 2023, mental wellbeing remained at its post-pandemic low with yet again no sign of movement towards pre-pandemic levels.”

The researchers say that a lack of change in terms of mental well-being in 56 countries worldwide as compared to 2022 “paints a discouraging picture of our post-pandemic prospects. It also raises some important questions about the residual impact of the pandemic.”

“It is important that we work to understand why there is no recovery. As a collective humanity we otherwise risk normalizing a substantially diminished state of mental wellbeing that can have disastrous consequences for the long-term prospects of society,” they explain. We will see in next year’s report if any change takes place in certain nations, now three years removed from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[Image – Photo by Danie Franco on Unsplash]


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