Consolidated efforts to address global mental health problems have been taking place, evidenced by a conference currently underway in Cape Town, South Africa, a special issue of The Lancet and last month’s High Level meetings at United Nations in New York City.
That mental health is subordinated to other non-communicable diseases seems paradoxical to stakeholders who asked the UN to scale up its commitment and make mental health a priority. For too long it has been marginal in global discourse, Vikram Patel told Global Health TV. Patel is a founder of Movement for Global Mental Health and a keynote speaker at the Cape Town conference currently underway.
The facts speak for themselves
Since 2007, when The Lancet published a special series on the global crisis, activism has increased and stakeholders have been building alliances. Their passion is fed by simple facts:
•Mental illnesses account for about 12-14 percent of the the burden of disease globally, and where ignored are also accompanied by human rights violations.
•The impact of neglecting mental health resources results in more disability than malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDs combined.
•Mental illness increases risk factors for diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and chronic respiratory diseases — the UN’s priority four non-communicable diseases which are the leading causes of death.
•Mental illness drives poverty, impeding economic growth in low- and middle-income nations.
•The link between mental illnesses to other health problems is direct. A person with diabetes is twice as likely to be depressed as one who is not. People with a mental illness are reported to be twice as likely to smoke, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory diseases. Depression tops the list of causes of global disability. Suicide is the leading cause of death in India, accounting for 125,000 deaths; in China, suicide accounts for 287,000.
Treatment gaps persist
The treatment gap is staggering. Governmental spending on mental health averages 4 percent, with some nations spending much less. The most severe shortages of work force exist in low and middle-income countries and includes non-specialists as well as trained psychiatrists. Roughly 1800 psychiatrists are available to 702 million people in Africa. The World Health Organization estimates that 75% do not have access to needed treatment.
“No health without mental health,” is not only a charge but a goal. The principle was affirmed by the UN last week with a report on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. Advocates are now attempting to turn the principle into a reality.