The World Health Organization (WHO) is asking governments to prioritize mental healthcare as mental illnesses rise.
WHO made the call during a virtual launch of the organization’s biggest assessment of mental health that has been carried out in the last 20 years. The report shows that while more people understand and are aware of mental health issues, little funding has been directed to mental health initiatives, which has made services and treatments unavailable.
The assessment shows that in 2019, nearly one billion people worldwide were estimated to live with a mental disorder. The most common disorder was depression, accounting for 39 percent, followed by anxiety and schizophrenia at 22 and 11.7 percent, respectively.
However, due to poor funding, few people are able to access effective, affordable, and quality mental health care.
For example, worldwide, 71% of those suffering from psychosis do not receive mental health care.While 70 percent of people with psychosis are reported to be treated in high-income countries, only 12 percent are reported to receive mental health care in low-income countries.
For depression, the gaps in service coverage are wide across all countries; only one-third of people with depression receive formal mental health care. Lack of care led to 703,000 suicides in 2019.
The high number of mental disorders led to suicides, accounting for more than one in every 100 deaths, the majority of which occurred among people under 50. It also highlights that mental disorders are the leading cause of disability, causing one in six years of living with disability.
People with severe mental health conditions die on average 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population, mostly due to preventable physical diseases such as obesity.
In addition to restricting access to treatment, the UN health agency says poor funding in the field of mental health leads to no or little research in the field. It is estimated that only 2.7 percent of health research is for mental health in low-income countries and 3.7 percent in middle-income countries.
The Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says investing in mental health leads to better lives and futures for all.
“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. “Investment in mental health is an investment into a better life and future for all,” he said.
The report suggests that all WHO member countries increase their commitment to providing mental health services, raise public awareness about mental health issues, and improve the quality of mental health care provided.
The WHO Director of Mental Health and Substance Use, Dévora Kestel, says countries have the ability to improve the quality of mental care received. She suggests that measures such as including mental health care in insurance schemes can go a long way in improving the quality of care, which will lead to more people receiving treatment.
Every country has an ample opportunity to make meaningful progress towards better mental health for its population. Whether developing stronger mental health policies and laws, 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, “she said.