Director-General's Office

Out of the shadows: making mental health a global priority

Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization

Opening remarks at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings
Out of the shadows: making mental health a global priority
Washington, DC, USA

13 April 2016

Honourable ministers of health and finance, colleagues at the World Bank, ladies and gentlemen,

We stand at the beginning of the era of sustainable development. One of the pledges the world has made in the 2030 agenda is to leave no one behind.

If we in public health stand by this pledge, then it is time to bring mental health out of the shadows.

The cultural and historical contexts for taking action in different countries vary considerably, but all face one common barrier: stigma. Mental disorders are something people don't want to know about. They don’t want to hear about them, talk about them, or deal with them.

This must change, and I see some encouraging signs. Mental health is a high priority for WHO’s 194 Member States, who adopted a Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan three years ago.

The WHO mhGAP Intervention Guide sets out evidence-based strategies for preventing and treating priority mental disorders. The guide has been translated into 20 languages and is currently being used in more than 90 countries.

The momentum is building, and this is entirely appropriate for a number of reasons.

Common mental disorders are on the rise. They now affect nearly 10% of the world’s population. That is a very large number of people who must not be left behind.

These disorders are costly, for economies as well as individuals and their families. We now have good evidence that depression and anxiety disorders alone cost the global economy more than one trillion dollars each year.

We also have evidence that every dollar spent on scaling up treatment for these common conditions brings about a return of four dollars in improved health and the ability to work. That is an excellent return on investment.

But the gap between need and access to treatment remains far too wide. More countries need technical support and guidance to scale up evidence-based strategies and interventions that have been shown to work.

Making mental health a priority for development means bringing these issues under the spotlight.

To implement action plans, countries also need funding. As our latest evidence shows, this will be money well spent.

The more we talk about mental health, the better. As I close, I am pleased to announce that the theme for next year’s World Health Day will be depression and suicide.

This will be another excellent occasion to increase awareness on this important public health and development priority and step up our collective action.

Thank you.