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Mental Health Care in the Developing World

Mental Health Care in the Developing World


Psychiatric Times January 2002
Vol. XIX
Issue 1


Some 450 million people worldwide currently suffer from some form of mental disease or brain condition, but almost half the countries in the world have no explicit mental health policy and nearly a third have no program for coping with the rising tide of brain-related disabilities.

These findings were included in a major report by the World Health Organization (WHO) released in October 2001. The report, titled Mental Health: New Understanding, New Hope, was the culmination of a year-long effort that included devoting World Health Day to the subject of mental illness last April and the publication of a detailed survey of the status of treatment of mental conditions in developing countries.

"The WHO is making a simple statement: mental health -- neglected for far too long -- is crucial to the overall well-being of individuals, societies and countries and must be universally regarded in a new light," according to a statement by Gro Harlem Brundland, M.D., Director General of the WHO.

"It is time for governments to make mental health a priority and to allocate the resources, develop the policies and implement the reforms needed to address this urgent problem. One in four people will suffer from mental illness at some time in life," added United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The WHO also launched a new worldwide effort called Project Atlas to catalogue mental health resources around the world. In its initial survey, the project found that, of the countries it surveyed:

  • 41% have no mental health policy.
  • 25% have no legislation on mental health.
  • 28% have no separate budget for mental health.
  • 41% do not have treatment facilities for severe mental disorders in primary health care.
  • 37% have no community health care facilities.
  • About 65% of the beds for mental health care are in mental hospitals.

In the United States, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a detailed look at the state of treatment for brain disorders in developing countries. While much of the IOM's attention recently has been focused on the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the United States, a number of new initiatives are being planned to implement the study's recommendations.

Neurological and psychiatric disorders constitute an often unseen but growing problem in developing countries, according to a report issued by the IOM, which added that statistical measures barely begin to encompass the degree of suffering they cause.

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