Greater attention must be paid to mental health care, Ban says

10 October 2008

Greater efforts are needed to address the difficulties in providing mental health care and protecting the human rights of those with severe disorders, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, urging scaled up resources to provide care to those who need it.

“Mental health is of paramount importance for personal well-being, family relationships and an individual’s ability to contribute to society,” Mr. Ban said in his message on World Mental Health Day, observed annually on 10 October.

He pointed out that mental disorders occur “in all cultures and at all stages of life,” and are too often linked to poverty, marginalization and social disadvantage.

Resources to tackle the issue are “insufficient, inequitably distributed and inefficiently used,” the Secretary-General noted.

“Scaling up services should be a priority,” he said, hailing a new initiative announced by the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

With over three quarters of people suffering from mental disorders in the developing world receiving no care, “Mental health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP): Scaling up care for mental, neurological and substance use disorders” seeks to close the massive treatment gap.

Across Africa, nine out of ten people suffering from epilepsy live without treatment, being unable to access drugs costing less than $5 per year.

WHO said that tens of millions could be treated for diseases such as depression and schizophrenia, even where resources are scarce, so long as there is proper care, psychosocial assistance and medication.

“Governments across the world need to see mental health as a vital component of primary health care,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. “We need to change policy and practice.”

In most countries, less than 2 per cent of health funds are earmarked for mental health. One third of people living with schizophrenia, over half suffering from depression and three quarters with alcohol-use disorders cannot access affordable care.

Meanwhile, one person dies of suicide – one of the leading causes of death, albeit a preventable one, among young adults worldwide – every 40 seconds.

The cost of boosting services is not very high, WHO said, and can be as low as $0.20 per person per year to enhance treatment for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and hazardous alcohol use.

“We need to ensure that people with these disorders are not denied opportunities to contribute to social and economic life and that their human rights are protected,” said Benedetto Saraceno, Director of WHO’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse Department.

In her message on the Day, the head of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) stressed the importance of addressing mental health through the lens of reproductive health, which “is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.”

During pregnancy and after delivery, many women suffer from depression, but cannot access the necessary treatment. “Perinatal depression is associated with increased risk of obstetric complications and premature birth,” said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, UNFPA’s Executive Director. “And depressed women are less likely to seek and receive antenatal or postnatal care.”

Survivors of gender-based and sexual violence need mental health and psychosocial support services, she added.

UNFPA and WHO have joined forces to integrate mental health services into existing maternal and child health policies.

“Today, we call on all governments and partners to include measures for mental health in efforts to achieve human development and respond to humanitarian crises,” Ms. Obaid said. “Mental health is central to human dignity.”

 

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