Mental health is one of the most neglected areas of public health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), close to 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder, 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide. In addition, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had a further impact on people’s mental health, given the lockdowns, isolation and quarantine. Beyond physical restrictions, people have been affected by external circumstances such as job furloughs, strained relationships with family members etc.
However, relatively few people around the world have access to quality mental health services. In low- and middle-income countries, over 75% of people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders receive no treatment for their condition at all. Furthermore, stigma, discrimination, punitive legislation and human rights abuses are still widespread.
The limited access to quality, affordable mental health care in the world before the pandemic, and particularly in humanitarian emergencies and conflict settings, has been further diminished due to COVID-19 as the pandemic has disrupted health services around the world. Primary causes have been infection and the risk of infection in long-stay facilities such as care homes and psychiatric institutions; barriers to meeting people face-to-face; mental health staff being infected with the virus; and the closing of mental health facilities to convert them into care facilities for people with COVID-19.
Move for mental health: let’s invest
That’s why, for 2020’s World Mental Health Day on 10 October, WHO, together with partner organizations, United for Global Mental Health and the World Federation for Mental Health, is calling for a massive scale-up in investment in mental health.
“World Mental Health Day is an opportunity for the world to come together and begin redressing the historic neglect of mental health,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “We are already seeing the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s mental well-being, and this is just the beginning. Unless we make serious commitments to scale up investment in mental health right now, the health, social and economic consequences will be far-reaching,” he added.
During the past few months, the World Health Organization has issued, in collaboration with partners, guidance and advice on mental health for health workers and other frontline workers and people of all ages who have been significantly affected by the pandemic. With the disruption in health services, countries are finding innovative ways to provide mental health care, and initiatives to strengthen psychosocial support have sprung up. Yet, because of the scale of the problem, the vast majority of mental health needs remain unaddressed. The response is hampered by chronic under-investment in mental health promotion, prevention and care for many years before the pandemic.
Countries spend just 2% of their health budgets on mental health
Countries spend on average only 2% of their health budgets on mental health. Despite some increases in recent years, international development assistance for mental health has never exceeded 1% of all development assistance for health.
World Mental Health Day: an opportunity to commit
The World Mental Health Day campaign will offer opportunities, primarily online given the continuing pandemic, for all of us to do something life-affirming: as individuals, to take concrete actions in support of our own mental health, and to support friends and family who are struggling; as employers, to take steps towards putting in place employee wellness programmes; as governments, to commit to establishing or scaling-up mental health services; and as journalists, to explain what more can and must be done to make mental health care a reality for everyone.
Given past experience of emergencies, it is expected that the need for mental health and psychosocial support will substantially increase in the coming months and years. Investment in mental health programmes at the national and international levels, which have already suffered from years of chronic underfunding, is now more important than it has ever been.
This is why this year’s World Mental Health Day campaign focuses on increased investment in mental health. Do your part and make mental health a priority rather than an option.