WHO: Countries must plan for ‘common’ mental disorders

Jee Y. Geronimo
The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies depression, suicide, autism, and dementia as priorities in tackling mental health challenges – disorders that countries' health care systems need to plan how to handle

MANILA, Philippines – The World Health Organization (WHO) identified depression, suicide, autism, and dementia as priorities in tackling mental health challenges – disorders that countries’ health care systems need to plan how to handle, a top official said.

Dr Shekhar Saxena, director of the WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, said these are the “common” mental disorders “to worry about and plan for.”

On Tuesday, October 14, during the 65th session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, he challenged every country in the western Pacific to plan how primary health care providers can identify and treat depression, the most “common and treatable condition.”

And as societies age, Saxena said dementia will be a problem in many countries – a condition that will require “specific planning.”

“The last ten years have made a lot of difference in the mental health area. Questions years back [include]: ‘Are mental health problems real? Can we do anything about it?’ [But] now: ‘We know that mental health problems are serious – tell us what we can do’,” he said.

Treatment gap

Graham Thornicroft, professor of community psychiatry at King’s College London, said 600 million people worldwide are disabled by mental disorders, with 85% of them living in low and middle income countries.

In the Western Pacific Region, mental disorders affect 100 million people, with an estimated 500 suicides a day. (READ: On World Suicide Prevention Day, learn how to save lives)

But Thornicroft noted that low income countries allocate less than 1% of their health budget to mental health care, and lower middle income countries allocate less than 2%.

He said there is a huge disparity between how physical and mental disorders are addressed, and even in rich countries, only a third of those with mental disorders are treated.

“It is unacceptable that so few people with mental illness receive any treatment” when there are effective interventions available, Thornicroft said.

And with “so few psychiatrists,” he emphasized the importance of integrated care and task sharing in closing the treatment gap. (READ: Only 490 psychiatrists for 100 million Pinoys)

Economic cost

In 2010, nearly 10% of burden of disease in the Western Pacific Region was attributed to mental and substance use disorders, said Harvey Whiteford, a professor of psychiatry and population health at the University of Queensland, Australia.

“People with mental and substance use disorders die prematurely,” he added, noting that for men with these disorders, they die 20 years earlier than the rest of population, while women die 15 years earlier than the rest of population.

In addition to this, a World Economic Forum report estimated the global economic costs of mental and substance use disorders is at $16 trillion over 20 years, and more than 1% of the global gross domestic product (GDP).

But while most of these disorders have cost-effective treatments, Whiteford said the treatment gap worldwide is 50% to more than 90%.

“The cost of not doing something impacts the individual, family, wider community…society. It’s an investment to treat these individuals,” he added.

On Tuesday, health ministers considered a regional agenda for implementing WHO’s Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020, which has been adopted by the 66th World Health Assembly in May 2013. 

The region identified 3 strategic action points to “expedite” the implementation of WHO’s action plan:

  1. health systems approach
  2. whole-of government approach to priority conditions
  3. social movement for mental health and well-being

The Philippines is hosting the WHO meeting, which opened Monday, October 13. It will last until October 17.  – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.