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MNS disorders
When discussing health in developing countries, the diseases that come to mind are often exotic, tropical diseases that–although tragic–strangely spark our curiousity. We think of tropical disease such as malaria, dengue fever or parasitic diseases from which we in the developed world are completely safe. Tackling diseases such as these is incredibly important, but we often forget about other types of diseases that may be more familiar to us.

Rather than diseases that afflict the body physically, attention to mental, neurological and substance use (MNS) disorders is usually overlooked when addressing health issues in developing countries. MNS disorders are the leading cause of Disability Adjusted Life Years globally and account for 14 percent of the global burden of disease.

Although usually forgotten, three-fourths of the people worldwide suffering from mental illnesses are in developing countries. Worse, eighty-five percent of the people afflicted by severe mental illnesses in developing countries will not receive the care they need and deserve.

Mental illnesses are surrounded by stigma in many developing countries, which results in social exclusion, discrimination and in many cases isolation by means of being tied to trees or locked in rooms.

Addressing mental health conditions in developing countries is particularly important because widespread poverty increases vulnerability for developing MNS disorders. In addition to this, chronic conditions and mental disorders mutually reinforce each other. Other chronic conditions can increase the risk of developing mental illnesses and vice versa.

MNS disorders directly affect an individual’s ability to have stable relationships with family members and other members of the community and essentially prevent them from being able to fully contribute to society.

A 2010 report by the World Economic Forum and the Harvard School of Public Health showed that indirect costs of mental health conditions in low- and middle-income countries were estimated to be $583 billion and estimated to more than double by 2030 to $1.4 trillion. Along with cardiovascular disease, mental health conditions are the main economic burden of non-communicable disease, accounting for almost 70 percent of lost output.

A study in Nigeria asked 250 people about their primary reactions to mental illness and their responses included fear, avoidance and anger. It is extremely rare that those suffering from mental diseases in Nigeria receive treatment.

In Kaduna, there is an effort to help those suffering and reduce stigma. Through hard work, counseling and prayer, this treatment center that is half prison, half hospital helps its patients treat their mental illnesses. Men learn skills such as welding, sales and learn to build an array of sellable items ranging from pots to sofas. Women learn skills such as sewing and making baby clothes. Stalls are available for patients to sell their goods and gain income.

Despite the small size of this program, it is a testament of the success that can come from helping those dealing with MNS disorders to receive treatment and learn employable skills so that they can earn income.

More programs such as these are necessary to address mental health disorders and reduce stigma in developing countries, but funding is often a main roadblock. Low- and middle-income countries spend less than one percent of their already small health budget on addressing mental health.

Some organizations have begun funding these programs, which is a great first step to addressing and drawing the necessary attention to mental health disorders. Grand Challenges Canada, funded by the Canadian government, has already invested $31.5 million to date in “funding for bold, transformational proposals to improve mental health treatment, expand access to care and reduce the stigma in developing countries.”

There is scientific evidence to prove that moderate additional cost is needed to effectively address and treat mental illnesses and can even come with economic benefits, all while helping those suffering to live productive, healthy lives.

– Kimberly Tierney 

Sources: World Economic Forum, Nature, Youtube, Global Mental Health, Voice of America, The Agenda, WHO
Photo: The Guardian