On the World Mental Health Day, the World Health Organization urges countries in South-East Asia Region to make health care for all a reality, by strengthening services to meet the increased needs and fill gaps exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Majority of the people living with mental health problems in the low-and middle-income countries do not get adequate treatment. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has increased our challenges multifold which need to be addressed on a priority,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director WHO South-East Asia Region.
Since the beginning of the pandemic last year, while there has been an increase in demand, the critical mental health services have either been disrupted or halted.
Bereavement, isolation, loss of income, anxiety and fear have triggered mental health conditions or worsened existing ones. This has increased the risk of severe outcomes for people with pre-existing mental, neurological or substance use disorders.
Dr Khetrapal Singh said WHO is assisting Member States to scale up and close gaps in mental health services with interventions to provide comprehensive mental health care especially at the primary health care level.
Most of the Member countries currently spend less than 1% of their health budgets on mental health despite evidence of high returns on the investment for care and treatment of mental health disorders, and despite growth in mental health awareness.
The WHO South-east Asia Region which is home to one-fourth of the global population, accounts for 39% of the nearly 700,000 suicides that take place globally every year. Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29.
WHO is advocating for and supporting countries develop multi-disciplinary suicide prevention program and suicide registries, while supporting research and surveys to strengthen national health information system to collect reliable data on mental health.
“Along with treatment gap, we must address workplace stress, help adolescents in schools as also caregivers and families of people living with mental health issues. We need to proactively address stigma and discrimination associated with mental ill health that creates barrier to access care and treatment,” the Regional Director said.
‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’ is the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day, observed on 10 October, which is especially relevant to policy makers in health and health systems.
Dr Khetrapal Singh said we must look at innovative approaches including remote training of primary health care and community-based workers in basic mental health services. Universities and health institutions must also make curricula contemporary and relevant to today’s mental health needs and scale up mental health services.
WHO reiterates its support to member countries to formulate progressive and equitable mental health policies, laws, program and services, including and prioritizing the most vulnerable sections, to make “mental health care for all” a reality in the Region, the Regional Director said.