Global perspective Human stories

UN health agency urges more investments, services for mental health disorders

UN health agency urges more investments, services for mental health disorders

With up to half of all people with severe mental disorders worldwide and a vast majority of mild or moderate cases not receiving any treatment, the United Nations health agency today appealed to countries to increase their investment and support for necessary services.

“This topic should matter to everyone, because people living with mental disorders in low- and middle-income countries are systematically locked out of the benefits of development that are open to others,” UN World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director-General for Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health Catherine Le Galès-Camus said.

“When not addressed, mental disorders deprive people of opportunities to escape from poverty and deny them a voice to claim their rights,” she added.

Even when treatment is available, it is often delivered in institutional settings which in many countries are associated with stigma and human rights violations, WHO noted.

“The reasons for this bleak situation are clear: mental health services are being starved of both human and financial resources,” the agency said in a news release, pointing out that a majority of countries in Africa and South-East Asia spend less than 1 per cent of their health budget on mental health.

Low-income countries have an average of 0.05 psychiatrists and 0.16 psychiatric nurses per 100,000 people (about 200 times less than in high-income countries) and those extremely low rates make it impossible for satisfactory services to be delivered.

“The current situation means that people with mental illnesses are at best ignored and at worst actively discriminated against in many countries,” WHO Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Benedetto Saraceno said. “We can only improve the services available to people with mental disorders if there is a major and rapid increase in investment in this area.”

Estimates show that the money required to deliver a core package of mental health care is approximately $2 per person per year in low-income countries and $3-4 in lower-middle income countries. This package, based on treatment of mental disorders in primary health care and in community-based facilities would increase the treatment coverage to 80 per cent for severe mental disorders and 25-33 per cent for less severe ones.

These targets are currently the best attainable level for most low- and middle-income countries given the current poor infrastructure and scarcity of human resources for mental health care, WHO said.