Mental illness receives far less attention than it should. Even though the data collected on global mental illness is minimal, it proves that mental diseases impose a functional hindrance on a stark percentage of the population. When not at full mental health, an individual cannot cope with the stresses of life nor make a productive contribution to their community. Therefore, providing effective and accessible treatment for mental illness is essential around the world.
Each organization listed here offers unique strategies to combat global mental illness. They range from small organizations with a specific focus to large organizations that devote only a part of their resources to mental health. Despite the varying sizes and contribution of each one, the continued efforts and successes of all of them still give an often ignored problem some much-needed attention and alleviation.
The Strong Minds organization has had a promising impact on mental health despite being such a new and small program. Unlike organizations that tackle global mental illness by placing their incumbents throughout the world to cover multiple issues, Strong Minds has reserved its programs to African women with depression.
While this seems like a narrow focus, Strong Minds insists that their program can still have a major impact. Their website points to the statistics that 100 million people in Africa suffer from depression and women suffer at twice the rate of men. Suffering from depression makes women less productive and can cause further issues with physical health over time, which can, in turn, have an impact on the children of the person suffering.
Strong Minds uses a cost-effective method known as Group Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT-G), which it can easily teach to local professionals. It consists of an initial 12-week talk therapy session. The women who complete these therapy groups also have the option to create their own Peer Therapy Groups to help other members of their community.
Using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) to evaluate their patients’ depression after the program, the organization found the results to be better than initially expected. Of the women who graduated from the program “between 94-97 percent” reported reduced symptoms of depression, and a third remained depression-free after six to eight months. With this success, Strong Minds hopes to continue to expand its program through additional connections with other programs in order to reach more women overall.
The Carter Center
While former president Jimmy Carter’s organization allocates a significant section of its healthcare resources towards physical diseases, it also has a commitment to mental health. Jimmy Carter’s wife and the center’s co-founder, Rosalynn Carter, manages The Mental Health Care Task Force and The National Advisory Council as well as The Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism. She also holds an annual symposium on mental health policies that gathers innovative thinkers in order to discuss and learn about a different topic each year.
Unlike an organization that creates mental health care programs or sends in doctors, The Carter Center focuses instead on spreading awareness and education about global mental illness. The task force partners itself with global health leaders in order to advocate for the need of such programs and to create policies that will alleviate mental illness. The fellowship has the task of reducing the stigma of mental illness by teaching journalists how to “more accurately and sensitively report information and influence peers and stakeholders to do the same”.
The Carter Center’s programs working in Liberia have had the most telling impact with the center and its partners training more than 240 mental health clinicians, some of whom have gone on to create programs of their own. It has also assisted Liberia’s Ministry of Health in the creation of a “five-year strategy and policy plan” to protect and promote the rights of mentally ill individuals.
The journalism fellowship has produced “more than 1,500 stories, documentaries and books”, which have garnered an Emmy, nominations for the Pulitzer Prize, and other awards. Many alumni have also reported a progress in the mental health policies at the local and state levels.
Doctors Without Borders
Founded in 1971, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) works to provide global healthcare in more than 70 countries to individuals who need it most in times of crisis. Natural disasters, epidemics, refugee migrations and conflicts all fall within the typical events that doctors in the MSF work to alleviate. Along with the typical injuries and illnesses following a crisis, MSF acknowledged the need to also treat mental illness as part of their emergency work in 1998.
This work remains a challenge for the organization due to the complexity of both managing psychiatric medications and providing long-term care in areas of conflict and disaster. Nevertheless, the organization held “229,000 individual and 53,300 group counseling sessions” in 2016, which were often performed by local counselors trained by MSF. These sessions treat a variety of symptoms from depression and anxiety to coping with the trauma that victims of disasters have endured.
Increased awareness efforts about the truth and the impact of global mental illness should influence more governments and non-profits to redirect their aims. However, more innovations will be needed in the coming years to make it cheaper and easier to provide mental health resources around the world. In the meantime, these organizations, as well as others, can only hope for and work towards the continued success of their programs.
– Elizabeth A. Frerking