Investing in mental health and eliminating stigma worldwide

Monday, October 10, 2011, is World Mental Health Day, a global effort by the United Nation’s World Health Organization (WHO) to promote education and awareness about mental illnesses.

The theme of this year’s event is “Investing in Mental Health,” with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urging international leaders and organizations to increase resources and services for mental health treatments.

Mental Health is a Global Crisis

In an international message, the Secretary stated that worldwide financial recessions, unemployment, wars and poverty have contributed to an ongoing global mental-health crisis. Despite mental disorders accounting for 13 percent of diseases throughout the world, a majority of poor to moderate-income nations spend less than 2 percent of their budgets on mental health services. And many do not have nearly enough healthcare providers to serve the needs of their citizens with mental illnesses, with less than one specialist per one million people available in many parts of the world. Furthermore, whatever funds are allocated tend to be utilized by mental hospitals, which reach only seven percent of patients in developing nations, rather than for local, community-based services and as part of primary care efforts. In fact, in poor countries, four out of five people suffering from psychiatric conditions do not receive treatment.

Mental Health Gap Action Programme

Those with mental disabilities and their families suffer from undue hardships due to the stigma associated with their illnesses which consequently limits their participation in public and social life within their communities, Ki-moon added. The Mental Health Gap Action Programme of WHO, he states, is an example of a new and innovative approach in cost-effective prevention and treatment of mental disorders. He stressed the need for renewed leadership and global collaboration to begin to address the problem, calling for providers, policy makers, donors and individuals to take action and invest in improving mental health throughout the world.

Mental disorders refer to a host of illnesses including schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, mental retardation and drug and alcohol abuse. Many of these conditions are present simultaneously, with several others arising from AIDS and other non-communicable diseases that are disproportionately high in underdeveloped nations.

Countries Unit to Improve Mental Health

The World Federation for Mental Health, a global grassroots organization representing over 150 countries and a partner agency involved in the World Mental Health Day, provides informational packets for health care providers on schizophrenia, caregivers support, depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and suicide, among others.

The GAD document provides facts about the psychiatric condition, which is marked by excessive worry that interferes with daily life. The illness often triggers physical symptoms including headaches, muscle tensions, nervousness, sleep problems, and difficulty concentrating and breathing. In the United States alone, about 6.8 million adults are affected, with stress and genetics playing a role. While in advanced countries, women suffer at far greater rates than men, in developing nations, the condition is equally split among men and women.

GAD and many other mental illnesses are highly treatable with psychotherapy and medications. Cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of talk therapy, for example, has been shown to be effective in training patients to connect feelings, emotions and behaviors. Medications for psychiatric disorders include benzodiazepines, such as valium, and serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which increase brain chemicals that regulate emotions and mood. Research is continually finding new ways to prevent, treat and understand the causes of mental illnesses.

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