Bridging the Mental Health Treatment Gap Must Be a Global Priority

 

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Every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) organizes the mhGAP Forum as part of its annual partnership event on mental health. The mhGAP Forum is an informal group of Member States, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, including UN agencies, international development agencies, philanthropic foundations, research institutes, universities and WHO collaborating centres, for coordinated action on the implementation of mhGAP. The mhGap is WHO’s flagship publication aimed at scaling up care for mental, neurological and substance use disorders.

 

WHO’s first global report on suicide prevention will be launched at this year’s annual event. This report will be the first of its kind with in-depth information about the global scenario of suicide, groups at risk of suicide and the ways in which the number of deaths from suicide can be prevented by action from the individual and collective levels. Along with the report, this year’s event is examining the ways to communicate mental health issues effectively and global strategies to advocate the implementation of WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013 to 2020 through partnership.

 

Suicide is a leading global public health issue. Around the world, in every 40 seconds, there is one death because of suicide. In the last 45 years suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide. According to WHO, “Suicide is now among the three leading causes of death among those aged 15 to 44 (male and female). Suicide attempts are up to 20 times more frequent than completed suicides”. Globally each year approximately one million people die from suicide. Although suicide rates have traditionally been highest amongst elderly males, rates among young people have been increasing to such an extent that they are now the group at highest risk in a third of all countries.

 

Mental health disorders (particularly depression and substance abuse) are associated with more than 90% of all cases of suicide. Kathryn Goetzke, the founder of the International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (iFred) says, “over 350 million people around the world have depression, a treatable disease, yet less than 50% of those with depression are currently receiving treatment”. Ms. Goetzke stresses the importance of this year’s WHO mhGAP forum as being critical to draw global attention to the urgency in bridging the mental health treatment gap. Her organization iFred works to #endstigma, to ensure all those needing treatment feel comfortable getting help. She says, “iFred also believes that by rebranding with a focus on hope, business and individuals are going to be more inspired to donate and fund solutions for this debilitating disease”. With the goal of rebranding depression, iFred has started global campaigning using hashtags like #sharehope #rebranddepression #endstigma.

 

 

According to WHO research, the mental health treatment gap is unacceptably high across the world ranging from 50% to 98%. In rich countries as well, 50% to 60% of people who are believed to be in need of support do not seek any kind of help for their problem. This is a global shame that world governments must give attention. Right to quality mental health services is a fundamental human right. In this context, much work lies ahead for us towards creating #innovative mental health services which will attract and build the trust of users.

 

I believe this mhGAP Forum will build some #hope in this direction. As a participant at the Forum, Ms. Goetzke says that “iFred is thrilled to be participating in this year’s event at the World Health Organization, as this year’s focus directly fits to our new Schools for Hope program. We are inspired by the amount of work occurring globally in mental health, and admire Dr. Shekhar Saxena and his team in creation of the Global Mental Health Action Plan and its implementation advocacy around the world”. She further adds, “we are looking forward to hearing more from the WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan who plans to speak at the event this year.”

 

Mental health services are highly stigmatized—regardless of whether the country or society is rich or poor. As a result, people are demonized, and alienated from the entire social process. This is a major factor that discourages people from seeking help. We must aim to overcome this barrier, through shared learning, and move toward bridging the shocking mental health treatment gap.

 

A new article written by Jagannath Lamichhane

 

 

Mental health is a worthwhile goal for United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda

 

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The post-2015 development goals will, as we know, set out the world’s development agenda for the foreseeable future—in the same way that the Millennium Development Goals provided a framework for global development over the past couple of decades. The United Nations is now preparing to choose its new set of sustainable development goals and the Global Mental Health community must work hard to ensure these goals include mental health.

Professors Vikram Patel and Graham Thornicroft have recently published an article in the British Medical Journal, which outlines why the case for including mental health in the UN’s new development agenda is a compelling one.

Indeed their case is compelling. When we think about it logically, it makes sense: poor mental health is a precursor to reduced resilience to conflict, they argue. In the midst of conflict, hope is a scarce resource and instead of teaching hope, “in the aftermath of war people with mental illness are often accorded the lowest priority”. If we think about the seemingly intractable global conflicts of today, from Syria and Iraq to the massacre in Gaza, the call to address mental health concerns as a priority development agenda, and as a result, rebrand mental illness and teach hope to thousands, is most pertinent.

Including mental health in the new global development agenda will also go a long way towards ending the paralyzing stigma associated with all kinds of mental illness. Not least, the most common mental disorders like depression and anxiety would be well on their way to receiving a more hopeful image globally, recognized as issues which affect us all personally and as communities, cities and countries.

Thornicroft and Patel in fact argue that if mental health is included in the new development agenda and mental health systems are globally improved, that would also “have a decisive role in making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable”. For addressing mental health concerns of an individual is not only beneficial to the person suffering, but when the problems associated with mental illness are given importance by society and a collective effort to address them is taken, it will inevitably create a sense of common belonging, hope, equality and indeed resilience among communities.

This would then also require addressing the income and economic inequalities faced by people who suffer from mental health problems. They have far lower rates of employment, but also, in times of economic recession, a population’s mental health is worse, argue the two professors. If we can thus promote a principle of ‘sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all,” again this too would benefit wider society as a whole.

The narrative which is understood by these arguments is that mental health problems are a global issue that impacts not only those who suffer, but wider society and large populations of human settlements. It is thus, for our collective benefit that we make treatment available to people who are suffering and in turn spread the message of hope globally.

The reasons that we need to push for the inclusion of mental health in the global development agenda are of course many, and only a few have been mentioned here.  But what is important to remember is that the proliferation of mental health problems is the result of collective ignorance of these issues over a long period of time. When we can talk freely about depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, we can find and develop ways to tackle these issues whether it’s through modern medicine, community-building or teaching hope to young people. What we do know is that the conversation can become truly global if we can secure mental health in the Post-2015 development agenda. The BMG editorial rightly highlights that mental health is a worthwhile goal for sustainable development.

A new article written by Bidushi Dhungel

Depression and anxiety are linked to happiness and there’s plenty that can be done from a young age

In the last blog, I talked about the World Happiness Report 2013 and began to explore the links between mental health and happiness. I want to explore this in further detail here, to examine the issues which effect happiness in an individual’s life and the implications of positive mental health on these indicators. As I mentioned in the earlier post, and as the Happiness Report 2013 clarifies, mental illness is the “single biggest determinant of misery.” While the prevalence of the problems varies between countries, at any given time, around 10 percent of the world’s population suffers from some kind of mental illness. Among all the mental illnesses, depression and anxiety are most common—accounting for about a fifth of all disability globally. Naturally, this has an incredible effect on the output of individuals, societies, countries and globally! And as we’ve heard so many times before, people are not receiving treatment for these illnesses for which cost-effective treatments exist—not even in the richest of countries!

 

For depression and anxiety disorders, evidence-based treatments can have low or zero net cost, according to not only the latest Happiness Report, but a host of professionals working in the field. They can and should be made far more universally available. However, these are all post-illness measures and the majority of interventions have focused too heavily on tackling the issues surrounding mental ill health at a later stage in life, when illnesses have been brewing and developing for years.

 

But in order to successfully make the case for childhood intervention, a paradigm shift is required which would look to establish mental health as intrinsically linked to personal happiness and not just a medical illness. That is what the World Happiness Report seeks to do precisely, by pointing out that “schools and workplaces need to be much more mental health-conscious” and “directed to the improvement of happiness” in order to prevent mental illness and promote mental health.

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The importance of good mental health to individual well-being can be demonstrated, in fact, by reference to values, according to the World Happiness Report 2013, which sit “at the very heart of the human condition.” Here, the Report, for example, says that if the ultimate goal in life and the truest measure of well-being is happiness, it’s “hard if not impossible” to flourish and feel fulfilled in life when individuals are beset by health problems such as depression and anxiety. This couldn’t be truer. Further, an individual’s self-identity and ability to flourish are often influenced by their social surrounding, relationships and engagement with those around them, but with mental illness, these become increasing difficult to maintain and manage. Importantly, the other issue identified by the report is that once an individual loses the ability to manage thoughts, feelings and behavior, then happiness becomes a distant dream to them.

 

The focus then should be at promoting happiness in all spheres of life, at home, school, work, and, in effect, promote mental health too. This would mean fostering an environment, for example, where young people and young professionals would not be personally, professionally or socially pushed to be isolated, over-stressed, keep feelings bottled up and be accepted and nurtured to grow and develop on their strengths and manage their weaknesses.

 

Further, there is plenty of scientific evidence that links happiness (thus equating to the absence of mental illness) to healthy lifestyles, including getting plenty of exercise which releases endorphins – aka happy hormones – and eating right. Personally, meditation and yoga I believe are also great techniques which can be developed as a lifestyle to promote well-being overall. Teaching these kinds of lifestyle choices from a young age can also prove to be extremely fruitful in the long run to fight unhappiness and mental illness simultaneously. After all, while it’s necessary to further develop medical and social interventions – as is most popular today – to address mental illness, nipping the bud at the root would undoubtedly be the most effective approach!

 

Having said all of this, I am thrilled to say that iFred is already well on its way to adopting this model of intervention, through all of its work. From developing a positive image of depression globally, to educating children about the value of hope in schools, iFred’s work deserves not only praise on this account, but some serious up-scaling through global partnerships!.

 

A new article written by:

Jagannath Lamichhane

 

Support During Suicide, Feeling Passionate Grief, and Finding Hope

A friend of mine told me today she lost her friend’s father to suicide.  It was completely unexpected.  Why, she asks?  How did we not know?  How does this happen?

Suicide is such a mystery.  Sometimes there are signs, other times there aren’t.  No matter how hard we try, we can not save another person.  The bottom line is they must want and know how to save themselves.

The unfortunate thing is that most people don’t know how to ask for that help – don’t feel comfortable asking for it.  Instead they act out, running from the pain, in the end making it only worse because usually that acting out has negative consequences.

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