Mental Health and Development

Image of woman in hut who is chained to the floor. WHO image by Muhammed entitled Unchained Soul

Persons with mental and psychosocial disabilities represent a significant proportion of the world’s population. Millions of people worldwide have mental health conditions and an estimated one in four people globally will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Almost one million people die due to suicide every year, and  it is the third leading cause of death among young people. Depression is the leading cause of years lost due to disability worldwide. Mental health problems, including alcohol abuse, are among the ten leading causes of disability in both developed and developing countries. In particular, depression is ranked third in the global burden of disease, and is projected to rank first in 2030.

Persons with mental and psychosocial disabilities often face stigma and discrimination, as well as experience high levels of physical and sexual abuse, which can occur in a range of settings, including prisons, hospitals and homes.

The economic cost of mental health problems is vast, while reasonable investment in mental health can contribute to better mental health for people. Poor mental health is both a cause and a consequence of poverty, compromised education, gender inequality, ill-health, violence and other global challenges. It impedes the individual’s capacity to work productively, realize their potential and make a contribution to their community.

There is growing recognition within the international community that invisible disabilities, such as mental health is one of the most neglected yet essential development issues in achieving internationally agreed development goals.

Upcoming & recent events

WHO QualityRights Toolkit

The WHO QualityRights tool kit provides countries with practical information and tools for assessing and improving quality and human rights standards in mental health and social care facilities. The Toolkit is based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It provides practical guidance on:

  • the human rights and quality standards that should be respected, protected and fulfilled in both inpatient and outpatient mental health and social care facilities;
  • preparing for and conducting a comprehensive assessment of facilities; and
  • reporting findings and making appropriate recommendations on the basis of the assessment.

The tool kit is designed for use in low-, middle- and high-income countries. It can be used by many different stakeholders, including dedicated assessment committees, nongovernmental organizations, national human rights institutions, national health or mental health commissions, health service accreditation bodies and national mechanisms established under international treaties to monitor implementation of human rights standards and others with an interest in promoting the rights of people with disabilities.

The WHO QualityRights toolkit is an essential resource, not only for putting an end to past neglect and abuses but also for ensuring highquality services in the future.

Panel Discussion – An Emerging Development Issue: Integrating mental health into Efforts to Realize MDGs and Beyond, United Nations Headquarters, New York, 16 September 2010


  • Ms. Rachel Mayanjya, Assistant Secretary-General, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations
  •  Dr. Al Alwan, Assistant Director-General, Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health
  •  Professor Sir Michael Marmot, University College London, Why Mental Health has to be Integrated into MDGs and Beyond
  • Mr. Janne Taalas, Deputy Permanent Representative of Finland to the UN
  • Werner Haug, Director, Technical Division UNFPA, Mainstreaming Mental Health in Efforts to Achieve MDGs: UNFPA Experience
  •  Dr. Wilfred Mlay, Ambassador for World Vision, Africa, What NGOs can do to address mental health in development
  • Mr. Sylvester Katontoka, self Advocate for persons with mental health conditions, Accessibility for Persons with Mental Health and Psychosocial Disabilities

Press Releases:

Mental Health and Development: Targeting People with Mental Health Conditions as a Vulnerable Group
In order to highlight the urgent need to pay attention to mental health in development, this WHO publication highlights the urgent need to redress the current situation. It presents compelling evidence that people with mental health conditions meet major criteria for vulnerability and yet fall through the cracks of development aid and government attention. It makes the case for reaching out to this vulnerable group through the design and implementation of appropriate policies and programmes and through the inclusion of mental health interventions into broader poverty reduction and development strategies. It also describes a number of key interventions which can provide a starting point for these efforts. This report is a call to action to all development stakeholders — multilateral agencies, bilateral agencies, global partnerships, private foundations, academic and research institutions, governments and civil society — to focus their attention on mental health. By investing in people with mental health conditions, development outcomes can be improved. To download a copy of the publication, please visit:


Mental health aspects of women’s reproductive health : a global review of the literature
The World Health Organization and the United Nations Population Fund in collaboration with the Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society, in the School of Population Health at the University of Melbourne, Australia are pleased to present this joint publication of available evidence on the intricate relationship between women’s mental and reproductive health. The review comprises the most recent information on the ways in which mental health concerns intersect with women’s reproductive health. It includes a discussion of the bio-psycho-social factors that increase vulnerability to poor mental health, those that might be protective and the types of programmes that could mitigate adverse effects and promote mental health. This review is our unique contribution towards raising awareness on an emerging issue of major importance to public health. Its purpose is to provide information on the often neglected interlinks between these two areas so that public health professionals, planners, policy makers, and programme managers may engage in dialogue to consider policies and interventions that address the multiple dimensions of reproductive health in an integrated way. To download a copy of the publication, please visit:


Countries to Promote Access to Health Care as a Human Right
PAHO/WHO Press Release, 29 September 2010

Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization, 50th Directing Council, 62nd Session of the Regional Committee, Resolution on Health and Human Rights, (CD50.R8) Washington, D.C., USA, 27 September – 1 October 2010

50th Directing Council, 62nd Session of the Regional Committee, Health and Human Rights, Concept paper, Washington, D.C., USA, 27 September – 1 October 2010


Other resources