Saraceno has been the director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse of the World Health Organization (2000-2010) and WHO Director ad interim of the Department of Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion (2007-2008). During his tenure at the WHO he led the preparation of the World Health Report devoted to Mental Health. and played a leading role in the process of approval of the Global Strategy on Harmful Use of Alcohol by all WHO member states.
Saraceno has worked with the team of Franco Basaglia in Trieste and in 1985 moved to the Research Institute “Mario Negri” in Milan where he became the director of the Laboratory of Social Psychiatry and Epidemiology. In 2010 he was appointed Professor at the Department of Mental Health of the University of Geneva and in 2002 professor of Global Health at the School of Medical Sciences of the Nova University of Lisbon where he has directed the International Master on Mental Health Policy. He was the head of the steering committee of the Gulbenkian Global Mental Health Platform and the Chairman of the Global Initiative on Psychiatry.
In 2003 he was appointed Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, UK; in 2007, Honorary Doctorof the Birmingham City University, UK; in 2007, Honorary Doctor of the Universidade Nova de Lisbon; in 2016, Fellow of the Swiss School of Public Health.