|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by World Health Organization to Launch Report
on Mental Health and Development
Despite the enormous scale of mental illness around the world, those suffering from such conditions were often among the most marginalized groups in developing countries, according to a new report released today by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Launched at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, “Mental Health and Development: Targeting People with Mental Health Conditions as a Vulnerable Group” states that those with psychosocial disabilities were extremely vulnerable, usually facing stigma and unemployment rates as high as 90 per cent. The challenge facing them was enormous because the majority of development and poverty alleviation programmes did not reach those with mental or psychosocial disabilities, while 75 to 85 per cent lacked access to any form of mental health treatment.
“Greater attention from the development community is needed to reverse this situation,” said Ala Alwan, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Non-Communicable Disease and Mental Health. “The lack of visibility, voice and power of people with mental and psychosocial disabilities means that an extra effort needs to be made to reach out to and involve them more directly in development programmes.” The mentally disabled were often deprived of their fundamental political and other rights, in addition to having only inadequate social and relief services and income-generating opportunities. They also suffered higher morbidity and mortality rates, he added.
Despite such seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the most common mental health disorders could be addressed, no matter how rich or poor the country, Dr. Alwan continued, stressing that all development actors must take action, no matter their station in life. Mental health should be a part of larger national plans and partnerships, he said, adding that the most important thing was ensuring care at the primary health level. Legal and social structures were also needed to protect the vulnerable.
Accompanying Dr. Alwan was Michelle Funk, WHO’s Coordinator of Mental Health Policy and Substance Abuse Department, who said that people with mental disabilities were often denied the right to marry and have children. “We are fighting it,” she said, adding that people should be able to make their own decisions, to participate politically, to vote and even to stand for public office.
“The report calls for an end to sufferings of all people,” said Sylvester Katontoka, President of the Mental Health Users Network of Zambia, accompanying the WHO team. “Targeting persons with mental disabilities within development programmes will undoubtedly reduce the levels of poverty and accelerate the pace of economic, social and human development.”
According to the report, the mentally ill have often been left off national agendas, and are exposed to discrimination and abuse. It predicts that one in four people globally will experience a mental health condition in his or her lifetime, and that depression will be the third highest cause of the disease burden in low-income countries by 2030.
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