Ban Ki-moon calls for scaling up resources for mental health services

10 October 2007

More than 60 per cent of people globally who suffer from mental disorders are not receiving treatment, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, urging an increase in resources devoted to mental health care.

“We have a pressing obligation to scale up care and services for mental disorders, especially among the disadvantaged, while stepping up efforts to protect the human rights of those affected,” Mr. Ban said in his message for World Mental Health Day, observed each year on 10 October.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most middle and low-income countries devote less than 1 per cent of their health expenditure to mental health.

The agency defines mental health as a state of well-being in which individuals can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and is able to contribute to the community.

Mental disorders comprise a wide range of problems with different symptoms but are generally characterized by some combination of abnormal thoughts, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others, says WHO.

Touching on this year’s theme for the Day which focuses on the impact of culture and diversity on mental health, Mr. Ban noted that in today’s culturally interconnected world, people are competing for the same resources as they struggle to maintain their own cultures or fit into new ones.

“Dislocation from native communities, rejection by the host community and difficulties in adapting to the cultural norms of the host society are intensely stressful, and can contribute to mental illness in those who are vulnerable,” he stated. This makes it all the more important to develop “culturally competent mental health care services.”

The challenges in this regard include the fact that resources for mental health are “scarce,” Mr. Ban said, adding that the treatment gap – the proportion of those who need but do not receive care – is more than 60 per cent.

In addition, the rate of mental disorders and the need for care is highest among disadvantaged people, who are also the groups with the lowest access to appropriate services. The fear of stigma leads many to avoid seeking care, he added.

As to how culture and diversity influence many aspects of mental health, he observed that culture not only determines what is seen as “normal” and “abnormal” within a given society, but it also affects how individuals manifest and communicate symptoms, styles of coping, family and community support and willingness to seek treatment.

To overcome these barriers, he advocated approaches that incorporate cultural backgrounds and beliefs, address language barriers and create culturally sensitive forms of dialogue, as well as incorporating cultural sensitivity in training, social policy and service provision.

 

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