WHO renews calls to tackle the regional mental health burden

News release

Mental health is an ever more pressing issue in the Western Pacific Region, and the World Health Organization (WHO) is urging Member States to tackle the issue through leadership and sound mental health policies.

“Some 100 million people suffer from mental disorders of various severities in the Western Pacific Region”, said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. “Depressive disorder alone is responsible for 5.73% of the overall disease burden in the Region.”

Dr Shin was speaking at the sixty-fourth session of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, meeting on 21–25 October in Manila, the Philippines.

WHO is pressing countries in the Region to adopt a comprehensive mental health action plan for 2013–2020. The plan outlines strategies for leadership in mental health policy-making and planning.

“A large part of this burden is in low- and middle-income countries,” said Dr Shin. “Between 76% and 85% of people with severe mental disorders in low- and middle- income countries do not receive any appropriate treatment.” Studies suggest a strong link between the determinants of poverty, such as a low education level, and increased mental health risks.

Furthermore, Asia and the Pacific are experiencing a demographic transition in the form of population ageing. This is expected to lead to an increase in the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Gobally, there are about 7.7 million new cases of dementia annually. Societies often attribute the symptoms as so-called “normal” signs of ageing, rather than a mental health condition requiring treatment.

WHO is calling for policies not only to focus exclusively on the mental disorders, but also to address broader mental health issues, such as non-clinical depression. Although policy-makers tend to prioritize treating the mental disorders, addressing such broader issues can have preventive benefits against developing severe disorders. As such, a broad approach embracing the protection of individual rights and dealing with community preconceptions is indispensable.

WHO has specific recommendations to improve mental health, including:

  • early childhood interventions;
  • support to children;
  • socioeconomic empowerment of women;
  • social support for elderly populations;
  • programmes targeted at vulnerable groups, including minorities, indigenous people, migrants and people affected by conflicts and disasters;
  • mental health promotional activities in schools;
  • mental health interventions at work;
  • housing policies;
  • violence prevention programmes; and
  • community development programmes.

These might take the form of home visits for pregnant women, community and day centres catering to the elderly or counselling for disaster survivors and victims of violence.

“Barriers still exist that prevent the successful implementation of mental health programmes,” said Dr Shin. “It is therefore essential to motivate and empower health professionals to provide much-needed mental health services.” To help health professionals and services, WHO has already produced a Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP 2010), providing modules dealing with conditions such as bipolar disorder, dementia and self-harm/suicide.

WHO’s comprehensive mental health action plan for 2013–2020 and regional initiatives on mental health will further bolster the ability of health services to address mental health concerns in Member States in the Region.

For further information or to request for an interview please contact:

Mr Ruel E. Serrano
Assistant, Public Information Office
Telephone.: +632 528 8001
E-mail: serranor@wpro.who.int