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BasicNeeds: Successful Mental Health Programs With Scarce Resources

BasicNeeds: Successful Mental Health Programs With Scarce Resources

Rejected by his family, Ahmed Abdullai often wandered aimlessly and slept in a graveyard in Tamale, northern Ghana. Now, with the help of BasicNeeds--an international development charity working to end the suffering of mentally ill persons in Africa, Asia, and soon, Latin America--Abdullai takes medications to stabilize his mental illness, learns gardening skills at the Tin Laayisi horticulture project, lives at home, contributes to the family farm, and feels like a "human being once again."

He is one of more than 28,000 persons who, along with their families, are being helped by BasicNeeds and its partner organizations in Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, India, and Sri Lanka.

Chris Underhill, MBE, BasicNeeds' founder/director, will be speaking in New Orleans on Thursday afternoon, November 16, on "One Psychiatrist Per Million People: Developing a Mental Health Program for the Poorest Countries in the World" at the 19th annual US Psychiatric & Mental Health Congress. His organization will also exhibit there.

"There are several important realities that need to be brought to the attention of mental health providers," Underhill told Psychiatric Times.

Mental illness, he explained, accounts for about 12.3% of the global burden of disease, and by the year 2020 this will rise to 15%. In addition, more than a billion people live in countries that spend less than 1% of their total health care budget on mental health, compared with the 6% spent annually in the United States.

Currently, "96.5% of people in low-income countries have access to, at most, 1 psychiatrist per 100,000 people," Underhill said. Yet, when it is understood that psychiatrists, many of whom are in private practice, congregate in capital cities like most other professionals and are not available to poor, rural populations, then the real ratio in most areas is 1 psychiatrist per million population.

To address that reality, BasicNeeds has formulated a model for mental health and development that optimizes the use of professional mental health resources and focuses on the ability of the community and mentally ill persons themselves to manage the processes inherent in a program of mental health and development. Sixty percent of BasicNeeds' client base is mentally ill, and the other 40% suffer from epilepsy.

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