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World Health Organization Prioritizes Global Mental Illness

Global Mental Illness
Mental illness has recently become one of the top priorities of the World Health Organization (WHO). Though most renowned for contributions to the prevention and treatment of physical disabilities, the WHO has embarked on a lengthy Mental Health Action Plan that addresses global mental illness exclusively.

The action plan, initiated in 2013 and meant to see completion in 2020, outlines four encompassing goals:

  1. Enable more effective governance concerning mental health.
  2. Improve global access to social care services.
  3. Establish prevention/promotion strategies.
  4. Strengthen research surrounding global mental illness.

More specifically, the WHO seeks to achieve these goals by promoting human rights for the mentally ill, increasing access to health care for all groups of people around the globe and supporting research as well as research-backed treatment methods. On May 29, 2017, the organization endorsed an action plan specific to dementia, in concordance with the 2013-2020 Mental Health Action Plan, which included objectives such as risk-reduction and improved care systems. Additionally, the WHO initiated a year-long global campaign against depression, highlighted on World Health Day of 2017.

While mental health is a universal concern, the WHO has pointed to low-income regions in particular as at-risk. Not only is there a strong correlation between mental illness and poverty, but poorer populations are less likely to have access to adequate health care and information concerning treatment. Often, they receive little to no protection against discrimination. Therefore, the WHO has particularly emphasized mental health care implementation in developing nations.

The scope and intensity of the WHO’s global mental illness action plan mirror the severity of the issue. Behavioral health disorders are on the trajectory to surpass all other diseases as a major cause of disability by 2020. Each year, approximately $2.5 trillion is lost in the global economy to mental illness; this number is expected to increase to $6 trillion in a little over a decade. Approximately one in every four people in the world suffers from mental illness.

Fortunately, there is strong evidence that efforts to address global mental illness can aid both prevention and treatment tremendously. For example, enabling health care systems to detect behavioral abnormalities in children could have an enormous impact, as early diagnosis makes a substantial difference in the treatment of mental disease. By employing effective strategies that maximize global impact, the 2013-2020 Mental Health Action Plan is certainly a promising step in the right direction.

Kailey Dubinsky

Photo: Flickr