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World Health

#MentalHealthNow: depression and anxiety are on the rise

13 April Apr 2016 1508 13 April 2016
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When you’re sitting down at the dinner table tonight, look around. One in four of you will be affected by mental illness at some point in your life. Not only that, but the latest WHO statistics show that common mental disorders are increasing worldwide. Between 1990 and 2013, the number of people suffering from depression and/or anxiety increased by nearly 50%, from 416 million to 615 million.

Mental health is often low on the list of global health priorities. With far more pressing world health concerns like the Zika virus outbreak, or Ebola, mental health remains in the shadows of the global health agenda.

But the truth is that close to 10% of the world’s population is affected by mental health problems.

Not only that, but mental disorders account for 30% of the global non-fatal disease burden. With the current global conflict levels increasing, this is set to rise, as WHO estimates that, during emergencies, as many as 1 in 5 people are affected by depression and anxiety.

Not just a humanitarian argument

The need for greater investment in treatment for depression and anxiety is not just grounded in a humanitarian rationale. According to a new WHO-led study, every US$ 1 invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of US$ 4 in better health and ability to work.

For the first time, both the health and economic benefits of investing in treatment of the most common forms of mental illness globally. The study, published today in “The Lancet Psychiatry”, provides a strong argument for greater investment in mental health services in countries of all income levels.

“We know that treatment of depression and anxiety makes good sense for health and wellbeing; this new study confirms that it makes sound economic sense too,” said Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO. “We must now find ways to make sure that access to mental health services becomes a reality for all men, women and children, wherever they live.”

However, current investment in mental health services is far lower than what is needed. According to WHO’s “Mental Health Atlas 2014” survey, governments spend on average 3% of their health budgets on mental health, ranging from less than 1% in low-income countries to 5% in high-income countries.

“Despite hundreds of millions of people around the world living with mental disorders, mental health has remained in the shadows,” said Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group. “This is not just a public health issue — it’s a development issue. We need to act now because the lost productivity is something the global economy simply cannot afford

Mental health needs to be a global humanitarian and development priority — and a priority in every country. We need to provide treatment, now, to those who need it most, and in the communities where they live. Until we do, mental illness will continue to eclipse the potential of people and economies.

Arthur Kleinman, Professor of Medical Anthropology and Psychiatry at Harvard University and an expert on global mental health

Mental health organizations such as BasicNeeds which works with people suffering from mental and neurological illnesses in rural and urban areas in Africa and Asia, and the World Dignity Project are just some of the long list of NGOs dedicated to working with those affected by mental health issues. However NGOs do not have the resources enough to tackle the growing problem: change needs to be enacted at a higher level.

Out of the Shadows: Making Mental Health a Global Development Priority is a series of events, being co-hosted by the World Bank and WHO on 13-14 April, and is bringing ministers of finance, development agencies, academic experts and practitioners together to discuss how to put mental health at the centre of the health and development agenda globally and in countries. The event aims to kick-start an increase in investments in mental health: investments by governments, development agencies and civil society.

We know that treatment of depression and anxiety makes good sense for health and wellbeing; this new study confirms that it makes sound economic sense too

Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO

During the events, countries which have been successful in scaling up mental health care will present the challenges they faced and how they were overcome.

For example, Brazil has developed a psychosocial care network. Ethiopia is rapidly scaling-up training and provision of mental health care across the country, and South Africa has treatment already forming an integral component of its re-engineered primary health care system.

Scaling up mental health services will also contribute to achievement of 1 of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, which is to reduce by one third premature mortality from noncommunicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being.

To learn more about what life is like for the 615 million people worldwide living with depression, click the video below:

Photo credits: Flikr/Alachua County

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