Billion people living with mental health problems, says WHO in landmark report

Almost a billion people suffer with a mental health disorder, it reveals

A WHO report reveals that climate change can affect mental health. AP Photo
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The World Health Organisation is calling for countries to take urgent action to address inadequacies in mental health care.

In its largest review of mental health care since the turn of the century, the WHO today published a blueprint for transforming mental health issues globally.

It is urging governments and advocates to step up commitment and action to change attitudes, actions and approaches to mental health.

Latest figures show nearly a billion people ― including 14 per cent of the world’s adolescents ― are living with a mental disorder, accounting for one in eight people globally.

In the UAE it says the number of patients seeking help for mental health problems increased at least sixfold in the past three years.

The WHO says depression and anxiety went up by more than 25 per cent in the first year of the pandemic and says even in high-income countries only a third of people with depression receive formal treatment.

Its research shows suicide accounts for more than 1 in 100 deaths and 58 per cent of suicides occurred before age 50.

People with severe mental health conditions die on average 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population, mostly the result preventable physical diseases, it says.

Across countries, it identified the poorest and most disadvantaged in society as being at greatest risk of mental ill-health and who are also the least likely to receive adequate services.

It also says climate change can affect mental health.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is calling for more investment in mental health as the report reveals countries dedicate on average less than 2 per cent of their healthcare budgets to mental health.

“Everyone’s life touches someone with a mental-health condition. Good mental health translates to good physical health and this new report makes a compelling case for change,” he said.

“The inextricable links between mental health and public health, human rights and socioeconomic development mean that transforming policy and practice in mental health can deliver real, substantive benefits for individuals, communities and countries everywhere. Investment into mental health is an investment into a better life and future for all.”

The report urges all countries to accelerate their implementation of the comprehensive mental health action plan 2013–2030.

It says progress has been slow, revealing that 45 per cent of countries reported in 2013 that they had mental-health policies and plans that were aligned with human rights instruments, but despite an action plan to reach 80 per cent by 2030 only 51 per cent have so far done so..

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organisation, is calling on nations to address mental health issues.  EPA

“Pockets of progress achieved over the past decade prove that change is possible,” the report says.

“But change is not happening fast enough, and the story of mental health remains one of need and neglect. For decades mental health has been one of the most overlooked areas of public health, receiving a tiny part of the attention and resources it needs and deserves.”

It makes several recommendations for action, which are grouped into three "paths to transformation" that focus on shifting attitudes to mental health, addressing risks to mental health and strengthening systems of care for mental health.

It calls on nations and organisations to work together to deepen the value and commitment given to mental health, reshape the environments that influence mental health and strengthen the systems that care for people’s mental health.

Devora Kestel, director of the WHO’s mental health and substance use department, has called for change.

“Every country has ample opportunity to make meaningful progress towards better mental health for its population,” she said.

“Whether developing stronger mental health policies and laws, covering mental health in insurance schemes, developing or strengthening community mental health services or integrating mental health into general health care, schools, and prisons, the many examples in this report show that the strategic changes can make a big difference.”

Updated: June 17, 2022, 6:56 AM
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