WHO’s report highlights urgent need to transform mental healthcare

SWITZERLAND –The World Health Organization (WHO) has released its largest review of world mental health since the turn of the century.

The detailed work provides a blueprint for governments, academics, health professionals, civil society and others with an ambition to support the world in transforming mental health.

In 2019, nearly a billion people – including 14% of the world’s adolescents – were living with a mental disorder. 

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

Childhood sexual abuse and bullying victimization are major causes of depression. Social and economic inequalities, public health emergencies, war, and the climate crisis are among the global, structural threats to mental health.

Depression and anxiety went up by more than 25% in the first year of the pandemic alone.

Suicide accounted for more than 1 in 100 deaths and 58% of suicides occurred before age 50. Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability, causing one in six years lived with disability.

 WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press release, “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.

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.”

Stigma, discrimination and human rights violations against people with mental health conditions are widespread in communities and care systems everywhere; 20 countries still criminalize attempted suicide.

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

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, just a small fraction of people in need had access to effective, affordable and quality mental health care.

For instance, 71% of those with psychosis worldwide do not receive mental health services. While 70% of people with psychosis are reported to be treated in high-income countries, only 12% of people with psychosis receive mental health care in low-income countries.

For depression, the gaps in service coverage are wide across all countries: even in high-income countries, only one third of people with depression receive formal mental health care and minimally-adequate treatment for depression is estimated to range from 23% in high-income countries to 3% in low- and lower-middle-income countries.

Drawing on the latest evidence available, showcasing examples of good practice, and voicing people’s lived experience, WHO’s comprehensive report calls on all stakeholders 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.

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