The report, New Understanding, New Hope, says some 450 million people suffer from mental and neurological disorders, and urges governments to seek solutions that are already available and affordable, including moving away from large mental institutions and towards community care.
"Mental illness is not a personal failure; in fact, if there is failure, it is to be found in the way we have responded to people with mental and brain disorders," said WHO Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland. She expressed hope that the new report would "dispel long-held doubts and dogma and mark the beginning of a new public health era in the field of mental health."
WHO said that despite the availability of treatments, nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional. The agency blamed this trend on stigma, discrimination and neglect.
The report invites governments to make strategic decisions aimed at fostering positive change in the acceptance and treatment of mental disorders. It argues that some mental disorders can be prevented, most can be successfully treated, and much of this prevention and treatment is affordable.
Over 80 per cent of people with schizophrenia can be free of relapses at the end of one year of treatment with antipsychotic drugs combined with family intervention, according to the report. Up to 60 per cent of people with depression can recover with a proper combination of antidepressant drugs and psychotherapy.
According to the report, governments are lagging in their approach to the issue. Forty per cent have no mental health policy while 25 per cent have no mental health legislation. About one-third of all countries allocate less than 1 per cent of their total health budgets to mental health, while another third spend just 1 per cent of their budgets on the issue.
"Science, ethics and experience point to clear paths to follow," said Dr Benedetto Saraceno, Director of WHO's Mental Health and Substance Dependence Department. "In the face of this knowledge, a failure to act will reflect a lack of commitment to address mental health."