Mental health

10 August 2015

Key facts

  • More than 100 million people suffer from mental disorders in the region. Depressive disorders alone are responsible for 5.73% of the regional disease burden. Many more have mental problems.
  • Mental health is an integral part of health.
  • There is no health without mental health.
  • Mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders.
  • Mental health is determined by socioeconomic, biological and environmental factors.
  • Cost-effective intersectoral strategies and interventions exist to promote mental health.
  • Mental health is an integral and essential component of health.
  • The WHO constitution states: "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." An important consequence of this definition is that mental health is described as more than the absence of mental disorders or disabilities. Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. In this positive sense, mental health is the foundation for individual well-being and the effective functioning of a community.

Determinants of mental health

  • Multiple social, psychological, and biological factors determine the level of mental health of a person at any point of time.
  • For example, persistent socioeconomic pressures are recognized risks to mental health for individuals and communities.
  • The clearest evidence is associated with indicators of poverty, including low levels of education.
  • Poor mental health is also associated with rapid social change, stressful work conditions, gender discrimination, social exclusion, unhealthy lifestyle, risks of violence and physical ill-health and human rights violations.
  • There are also specific psychological and personality factors that make people vulnerable to mental disorders.
  • Lastly, there are some biological causes of mental disorders including genetic factors and imbalances in chemicals in the brain.

Strategies and interventions

  • Mental health promotion involves actions to create living conditions and environments that support mental health and allow people to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles.
  • A climate that respects and protects basic civil, political, socioeconomic and cultural rights is fundamental to mental health promotion. Without the security and freedom provided by these rights, it is very difficult to maintain a high level of mental health.
  • National mental health policies should not be solely concerned with mental disorders, but should also recognize and address the broader issues which promote mental health.
  • This includes mainstreaming mental health promotion into government and business policies and programmes in sectors including education, labour, justice, transport, environment, housing, and welfare, as well as the health sector.
  • Promoting mental health depends largely on intersectoral strategies.
  • Specific ways to promote mental health include:
    • early childhood interventions (e.g. home visits for pregnant women, pre-school psychosocial activities, combined nutritional and psychosocial help for disadvantaged populations);
    • support to children (e.g. skills-building programmes, child and youth development programmes);
    • socioeconomic empowerment of women (e.g. improving access to education and microcredit schemes);
    • social support for elderly populations (e.g. befriending initiatives, community and day centres for the aged);
    • programmes targeted at vulnerable groups, including minorities, indigenous people, migrants and people affected by conflicts or disaster (e.g. psychosocial interventions after disasters);
    • Mental health promotional activities in schools (e.g. programmes supporting ecological changes in schools and child-friendly schools);
    • Mental health interventions at work (e.g. stress-prevention programmes);
    • Housing policies (e.g. better housing);
    • Violence prevention programmes (e.g. community policing initiatives);
    • Community development programmes (e.g. Communities That Care initiatives, integrated rural development).

WHO response

  • WHO supports governments in the goal of strengthening and promoting mental health. WHO has evaluated evidence for promoting mental health and is working with governments to disseminate this information and to integrate effective strategies into policies and plans.
  • In 2013, the World Health Assembly approved a Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan for 2013–2020. The Plan is a commitment by all WHO Member States to take specific actions to improve mental health and to contribute to the attainment of a set of global targets.
  • In response to the need for an implementation plan that considers the different stages of development of mental health service delivery systems, a Regional Agenda for Implementing the Mental Health Action Plan 2013–2020 in the Western Pacific was endorsed at the sixty-fifth Regional Committee Meeting in 2014. The Regional Agenda features a phased approach as a framework for prioritizing and accelerating policies and action. The core, expanded and comprehensive implementation options are provided around the four objectives of the Mental Health Action Plan:
    • strengthen effective leadership and governance for mental health;
    • provide comprehensive, integrated and responsive mental health and social care services in community-based settings;
    • implement strategies for promotion and prevention in mental health; and
    • strengthen information systems, evidence and research for mental health.

Health Topic