South Africa ranks as the 3rd most miserable country in the world, according to the mental state report

A man sits on a ledge with his back to the world. Picture: Unsplash

A man sits on a ledge with his back to the world. Picture: Unsplash

Published Mar 12, 2024


Uzbekistan, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil, Tajikistan and Australia are some of the most miserable countries in the world.

What’s more, these countries sit at the bottom of the list when it comes to mental wellbeing rankings, according to the latest Mental State of the World in 2023 report.

The report revealed that out of 71 countries surveyed, South Africa ranked in the bottom 3 of countries with a mentally struggling or distressed population or individuals.

The Mental State of the World Report is an annual report of the Global Mind Project and provides trends and insights on the mental wellbeing of Internet-enabled populations around the globe.

The report was released in March 2024 after collecting data from over 500,000 respondents in 13 languages across 71 countries that spanned 9 regions in 2023.

The Global Mind Project said that the data was collected using the MHQ assessment, a comprehensive online survey of cognitive and emotional capabilities that provides an overall mental wellbeing metric (the MHQ score), as well as multiple dimensional views that relate to the ability to navigate the normal stresses of life and function productively.

The report revealed that the average MHQ score across the 71 countries measured in 2023 was 65 on the 300-point MHQ scale.

Across the spectrum of mental wellbeing, 27% of respondents were “distressed” or “struggling” with MHQ scores of below 0, while 38% were “succeeding” or “thriving” with MHQ scores above 100.

This is nearly identical to the global figures from last year.

According to the Global Mind Project, there are three insights to take home from this study:

Mental wellbeing remained at its post-pandemic low with yet again no sign of movement towards pre-pandemic levels.

“In 2023, at both a global level and at the level of individual countries, MHQ scores remained largely unchanged relative to 2021 and 2022, after a sharp drop during the pandemic years,” said the report.

The researchers said that this raised important questions about the lasting impact of the pandemic, and how shifts in the way we live and work and the amplification of existing habits (e.g. remote working, online communication, consumption of ultra-processed food, use of single- use plastics) cumulatively pushed us into a space of poorer mental wellbeing.

Younger generations, particularly those under age 35, saw the steepest declines in mental wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic, while those over 65 stayed steady.

The report also said that with these declines persisting across all age groups, the pandemic amplified a pre-existing trend of poorer mental wellbeing for younger generations that was now visible across the globe.

As in previous years, several African and Latin American countries topped the country rankings, while wealthier countries of the Core Anglosphere such as the United Kingdom and Australia were towards the bottom.

Researchers also highlighted that this pattern suggested that greater wealth and economic development did not necessarily lead to greater mental wellbeing.

They said that in 2023, data from the Global Mind Project identified key factors that explained these patterns, such as getting a smartphone at a young age, frequently eating ultra-processed food and a fraying of friendships and family relationships, that are typically more prevalent in Internet-enabled populations of wealthier countries.

“Overall, the insights in this report paint a worrying picture of our post-pandemic prospects and we urgently need to better understand the drivers of our collective mental wellbeing such that we can align our ambitions and goals with the genuine prosperity of human beings,” said the researchers.