As I sit here at a crowded Starbucks in sunny Geneva Switzerland, preparing for the meeting tomorrow at the headquarters of the World Health Organization, I marvel at how far we have come in the field of mental health since my father’s suicide over 20 years ago. In those days, we looked upon suicide as a poor choice a person made and simply did not talk about it. Today, while we still have a long way to go, we are starting to understand that it is more than a choice; it is a complicated combination of life circumstances, chemical processes of the brain, genetics, and childhood trauma.
Last year I had the privilege of attending the discussion of the ground breaking resolution for the UN to make global mental health a priority throughout the world with a proposed Global Mental Health Action Plan. On May 27th, 2013 the World Health Assembly adopted the “Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020“, putting the world on notice that mental health must be a priority. I have the honor of attending the WHO follow-up conference tomorrow October 7th, during Global Mental Health week, to hear across the globe how member states and affiliated organizations are going to put the plan into action.
In 2004 when I began my work to end the stigma of depression through rebranding, less than 25% were receiving treatment leaving a full 75% of the world population untreated. Last year, the World Health Organization statistics reported that the number untreated is now 50%, so while progress might not be evident it is improving. These statistics bring me joy and gratitude that the tireless work of the people in the field of mental health, creating awareness and bringing services to the 350 million with depression, is not happening in vain.
That being said, there is much left to do. Depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide, yet it is treatable. It is significantly underfunded and still highly stigmatized and there is much more to do to bring treatment numbers to 100%.
I encourage you to join us October 10th, Global Mental Health Day, to learn more about depression. Join us in watching the free, live Global Web Screening of Hidden Pictures, the first feature documentary on global mental health. Read and share information on mental health from organizations like Psyhcentral and Webmd with perspectives from both the medical profession and patients. Or take the pledge to plant a virtual sunflower, showing your solidarity in our movement to bring dignity and respect to those living with depression.