Business as usual for mental health simply will not do: WHO

All WHO member states have adopted the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013–2030 but progress has been slow, latest analysis of country performance shows

By Taran Deol
Published: Friday 17 June 2022

The World Health Organization (WHO) June 17, 2022, called for more action on addressing mental health issues worldwide, especially now that the COVID-19 pandemic has been cited as contributing to worsening mental health.

Depression and anxiety spiked 25 per cent in the first year of the pandemic (2020), the United Nations body noted in its World Mental Health Report released June 17.

All 194 WHO member states have adopted the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013–2030 but progress has been slow, the global health body’s latest analysis of country performance showed.

The WHO said:

Business as usual for mental health simply will not do.

Other structural threats to mental well-being besides the pandemic include social and economic inequalities, public health emergencies, war and the climate crisis.

Almost a billion people, 14 per cent of whom were adolescents, were living with some form of mental health issues in 2019. For some, this resulted in dying by suicide which accounted for one in 100 deaths, with more than half of them happening before the age of 50.

Those living with mental health issues live some two decades less than the general population — preventable physical diseases are largely the cause of death. For others, it is a lifetime of living with a disability, of which mental health is the leading cause.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “Everyone’s life touches someone with a mental health condition. Good mental health translates to good physical health and this new report makes a compelling case for change.”

He added that the inextricable links between mental and public health, human rights and socio-economic development meant that transforming policy and practice in mental health could deliver real, substantive benefits for individuals, communities and countries everywhere.

Ghebreyesus said: 

Investment into mental health is an investment into a better life and future for all.

The WHO report aims to “inspire and inform the indisputable and urgent transformation required to ensure better mental health for all.”

Access to mental health services remains poor. Globally, 71 per cent of psychosis patients don’t receive treatment. High-income countries provide treatment to 70 per cent psychosis patients and low-income countries manage the same for just 12 per cent.

The figures are even worse for depression — only 33 per cent of those living with depression in high-income countries receive formal care. Here, minimally-adequate treatment for depression is around 23 per cent, more than seven times the three per cent in low- and lower-middle-income countries.

The WHO’s report lists three key ‘paths to transformation’ to quicken progress on the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013–2030.

These include more focussed investment in mental health, reshaping environments such as homes, communities, schools, workplaces and health care services that influence mental health and strengthening the quality of mental health care by diversifying it.

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