WHO: Make mental health a global priority

News release

MANILA, 10 October 2008—Did you know that depression may soon be a leading cause of disability worldwide? And are you aware that every 40 seconds, somebody dies from suicide?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that problems associated with mental illness and disorders will continue to rise unless more is done to tackle the issue and to reduce the burden of mental disorders.

World Mental Health Day, observed every 10 October, is a global effort to promote greater public awareness and understanding of mental health and mental illness. It aims to promote mental health with the knowledge that the means exist to fight mental, neurological and substance-use disorders.

This year's theme, "Advocacy for global mental health: scaling up services through citizen advocacy and action", is designed to raise awareness on what needs to be done so all people can have access to information, personalized treatment and resources to assist them in all aspects of their recovery.

Mental disorders affect nearly 12% of the world's population. Approximately 450 million, or one out of every four people, experience a mental illness that could benefit from diagnosis and treatment. However, mental health generally ranks low on the public health agenda, where it is forced to compete for scarce resources. Services are often limited, underfunded, poorly distributed and inadequately staffed.

WHO this month launched the Mental Health Gap Action Programme, which identifies strategies needed for scaling up mental health care using cost-effective interventions in resource-constrained settings. The programme calls on all partners – governments, multilateral agencies, donors, public health organizations, mental health professionals and consumer groups – to join together for advocacy and action to make this happen.

"There is no health without mental health. We need to integrate mental health in primary health care," said Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "We need to reinforce partnerships, accelerate efforts, scale up interventions, increase investments towards providing services to those who do not have any – and the political will to see all this through."

Dr Omi noted that community and economic development can also be used to restore and enhance mental health. Community development programmes that aim to reduce poverty, achieve economic independence and empowerment for women, reduce malnutrition, increase literacy and education, and empower the underpriviledged contribute to the prevention of mental and substance use disorders and promote health.

For more information, please contact Dr Wang Xiangdong, WHO Regional Adviser in Mental Health, at +632 528 9858; email: wangx@wpro.who.int or Ms Thelma Sison at +632 528 9853.

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