WHO Calls for System Change for Billions of People Living with Mental Health Problems

WHO calls on countries to take urgent action to address shortages in mental health care. Nearly one billion people suffered from mental disorders in 2019. That number continues to grow, with recent data showing that conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders increased by more than 26 percent in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the largest review of mental health care since the turn of the century, the WHO published a blueprint for changing mental health issues globally.

Governments and advocates are then required to increase their commitment and efforts to change attitudes, activities, and approaches to mental health. The latest figures show nearly one billion people, including 14 percent of the world’s youth, live with a mental disorder, accounting for one in eight people globally.

In the UAE, the number of patients seeking help for mental health problems has increased at least sixfold in the last three years. The WHO says depression and anxiety increased by more than 25 percent in the first year of the pandemic and even in high-income countries only a third of people with depression receive formal care. His research shows suicide accounts for more than one in 100 deaths and 58 percent of suicides occur before the age of 50. People with severe mental health conditions die an average of 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population, mostly from preventable physical illnesses.

Across the country, the poorest and most disadvantaged communities were identified as being most at risk of developing mental health disorders and also least likely to receive adequate services. He also said climate change could affect mental health.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for more investment in mental health as the report reveals countries are dedicating on average less than two percent of their health care 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 an interesting case for change,” he said.

The inextricable link between mental health and public health, human rights, and socioeconomic development means that changing policies and practices in mental health can deliver tangible and substantive benefits to individuals, communities and countries everywhere. An investment in mental health is an investment in a better life and future for all.

The head of the WHO mental health unit, Mark Van Ommeren, said that mental disorders are the main cause of disability. He noted that depression and anxiety disorders caused nearly $1 trillion in economic losses due to lost productivity. Despite the enormous socio-economic consequences, Van Ommeren said, many people with mental health problems do not seek help for a variety of reasons. One reason is the fear of being stigmatized for seeking help. Another reason could be that they do not trust the services available, because there has not been a large enough investment for that service. Third, they may not be aware that they are experiencing a disorder, because their knowledge of mental health is limited, he said.

Van Ommeren said the current mental health care system was imperfect and had to change. He said governments of various countries are currently investing two-thirds of their budgets in mental health in large custodial mental hospitals. According to him, the budget is better allocated to community-based mental health facilities because they will be more accessible. Human rights violations are less likely to occur… The atmosphere in big hospitals is as if they are accommodating people with very serious mental health problems. While in more hospitable public health facilities such an atmosphere is less likely to exist, more people can be easily treated. Mental hospitals have so much stigma that many people never want to seek treatment there, he added.