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World Mental Health Day: WHO worries about poor investments in mental health

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Despite the apparent need for mental health services, the World Health Organization, WHO, on Sunday expressed concern that governments across the globe have not scaled up investments in mental health.

A new WHO Mental Health Atlas portrays a disappointing picture of a worldwide failure to provide people with mental health services they need at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is spotlighting the need for mental health services.

It is clear from the latest edition of the Atlas, which includes data from 171 countries, that increasing attention to mental health has not yet been matched by a scaling up of quality mental services that are aligned with needs.

Atlas of Mental Health is a collection of data provided by countries worldwide regarding mental health policies, legislation, financing, human resources, availability and utilization of services, and data collection systems.

Reacting to the new report, Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “It is extremely concerning that, despite the evident and increasing need for mental health services, which has become even more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic, good intentions are not being met with investment.

“We must heed and act on this wake-up call and dramatically accelerate the scale-up of investment in mental health because there is no health without mental health.”

The report pointed out that lack of progress in leadership, governance, and financing are some of the challenges in mental health.

Moreover, none of the targets for effective leadership and governance for mental health, the provision of mental health services in community-based settings, mental health promotion and prevention, and strengthening information systems were nearing completion.

“In 2020, just 51 per cent of WHO’s 194 Member States reported that their mental health policy or plan was in line with international and regional human rights instruments, way short of the 80 per cent target.

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And only 52 per cent of countries met the target relating to mental health promotion and prevention programmes, also well below the 80 per cent target.

The only 2020 target met was a reduction in the rate of suicide by 10 per cent, but even then, only 35 countries said they had a stand-alone prevention strategy, policy or plan.

“Steady progress was evident, however, in the adoption of mental health policies, plans and laws, as well as in improvements in the capacity to report on a set of core mental health indicators.

“However, the percentage of government health budgets spent on mental health has scarcely changed during the last years, still hovering around 2%.

Moreover, even when policies and plans included estimates of required human and financial resources, just 39 per cent of responding countries indicated that the necessary human resources had been allocated and 34 per cent that the necessary financial resources had been provided.

Stating that transfer of care to the community was still slow, the report noted that while WHO has long recommended the systematic decentralization of mental health care to community settings, only 25 per cent of responding countries met all the criteria for integration of mental health into primary care.

“While progress has been made in training and supervision in most countries, the supply of medicines for mental health conditions and psychosocial care in primary health-care services remains limited.

Additionally, the report discussed the difficulties of allocating government funds to mental health and emphasized the urgency of deinstitutionalization.

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