The World Health Organization is calling for radical changes in the treatment of mental health disorders, saying existing care systems are largely ineffective and often abusive.
In 2019, nearly one billion people were living with a mental disorder. That number has risen, with new data showing that conditions such as depression and anxiety increased by more than 26 percent in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.
The World Health Organization recently released its largest review of world mental health since the turn of the century. The report found that 14 percent or one in seven teens suffers from a mental disorder. It says suicides account for one in 100 deaths, with 58 percent occurring before the age of 50.
Mark van Omeren, head of the WHO’s mental health unit, says that mental disorders are the leading cause of disability. They say that the loss of productivity due to depression and anxiety alone has caused a loss of about $1 trillion annually to the world economy. Despite the enormous socio-economic consequences, he says that many people with mental health problems do not seek help for a variety of reasons.
“They fear that the stigma of seeking help may be a reason. Another reason could be that they don’t trust the services available because not enough investment has been made in it. “Third, it may be that they do not recognize the problem because their knowledge of mental health problems is limited.”
The WHO says that only a small fraction of people in need have access to effective, affordable and quality mental health care. It says the gap between developed and developing countries is huge, noting that 70 percent of people with psychosis are treated in rich countries, while 12 percent are treated in poor countries.
Van Omeren says the current mental health care system is broken and needs to be changed. He says the government invests two out of three dollars for mental health in large custodial psychiatric hospitals. He says it would be better to spend money on community-based mental health facilities because they are more accessible.
Van Omren said, “It is less likely that human rights are violated … in large hospitals the environment easily builds up that hospitals warehouse people with very serious problems.” “In community settings with open doors, this is much less likely. Plus, in community settings, many more people can easily be treated. There is so much stigma about the hospital that many people will never get care there.”
WHO says countries can provide better, more affordable treatment by strengthening community health services. It recommends integrating treatment in primary health care, schools and prisons. It says mental health must be covered by insurance plans.