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Mental health atlas 2011

19 October 2011 -- One in four people develop some kind of mental illness at some point in their lives. WHO's Mental health atlas 2011 examines the extent of mental health needs and services around the world.

Transcript of the podcast

Veronica Riemer: You're listening to the WHO podcast and my name is Veronica Riemer. This week we focus on World Mental Health Day and the launch of the World Health Organization's Mental health atlas 2011 which looks at mental health needs and services around the world.

One in four people develop some kind of mental illness at some point in their lives. But although mental illness is one of the most common health conditions worldwide, it can be one of the hardest to come to terms with. Both for those who are ill, and for those who are close to them. People suffer twice over - from the illness itself, and because they are shunned by their families, exiled from their communities and isolated by society. Dr Shekhar Saxena, Director for the Department for Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO in Geneva, outlines the global picture.

Dr Shekhar Saxena: The key message from the Mental health atlas 2011 is that the gap between what is needed for mental health care and what is available, remains very large. Most countries are investing far too little on mental health. Average budget for mental health from the health budget remains less than 3% for the whole world while mental disorders cause about 13% of the total burden. Most low- and middle-income countries spend less that 2% of their budget on mental health.

Veronica Riemer: Dr Saxena draws attention to a severe shortage of qualified and skilled experts to deal with mental health needs.

Dr Shekhar Saxena: The numbers of mental health specialists are also very small. There are countries in Africa with 1 psychiatrist for a population of 9 million and in Asia with 2 psychiatrists for a population of 29 million people. These are totally inadequate for any meaningful services for people with mental disorders.

Veronica Riemer: Dr Sheila Ndyanabangi, Principal Medical officer in charge of mental health and control of substance abuse at the Ministry of Health in Uganda, explains the situation in her country.

Dr Sheila Ndyanabangi: Uganda has been at the forefront of changing the mental service institution because it invested money up to about US$ 24 million in the last 10 years. First of all to improve the one large hospital we have but also to build mental health units in 13 regional hospitals which are equitably distributed all over the country. Also it has invested in training of human resource, both mental health professionals but also in service training for general health workers.

Veronica Riemer: Uganda is also working to change its mental health law, which will ensure a human rights based approach, so that the people providing mental health services can help to reduce stigma and that people with mental health disorders are not subject to discrimination. But in general mentally ill patients in Africa do not receive the health care they need, because countries are not investing enough. Many African countries still depend on large, old fashioned institutions, with prison-like conditions. Although there has been improvement in the training of psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses, many leave their country for greener pastures. Those who do stay in their own country are unwilling to serve in rural areas which lack basic services.

Experts agree that much more attention needs to be placed on providing the right environment and services for those dealing with mental illness. Former Norwegian Prime Minister Mr Kjell Magne Bondevik lends his voice to the World Health Organization's campaign for better mental services. During his first term in office in 1998, Mr Bondevik publicly admitted that he was suffering from depression and took leave of absence to seek treatment and recover. His openness about his depression led to an outpouring of public support and helped to combat the stigma surrounding mental illness in his country.

Mr Kjell Magne Bondevik: I learned many lessons during these weeks. First of all I learned how delicately tuned the human nature is - it is about a balance between your physical and mental situation. I think in a way through this period of weakness I became a stronger person. I learned more about the human life and I learned to set limits for myself, what people can demand from me. When you have seen the back side of life and the black side of life you can feel even stronger the good sides of life, the good moments with the family, out in the nature, with music with art. I felt in a way that the spectre of life was broadened during this experience, so maybe I also learned a little bit more about how I can take care of others and see if they have problems, for instance on the mental health field. So I came back as Prime Minister after a leave of less than four weeks and I think I became a better and stronger leader after that.

Veronica Riemer: Mr. Bondevik came back to serve another term as Prime Minister of Norway and is currently the President of the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights.

To scale up the care for mental, neurological and substance use disorders, the World Health Organization is implementing its mental health Gap Action Programme. Dr Shekhar Saxena explains that technical assistance is provided under this programme to low- and middle- income countries to train their general doctors, nurses and health workers to identify and treat priority disorders.

Dr Shekhar Saxena: Treatment is by medicines but also by psychosocial assistance. Good progress has taken place with implementation of the programme in countries like Ethiopia, Jordan, Nigeria and Panama. Large countries like Brazil, China, India and Thailand are also preparing themselves for implementing the programme very vigorously. These experiences show us that rapid progress is possible to bridge the gap between what is needed and what is available if systematic action is taken even within countries with low level of resources.

Veronica Riemer: That's all for this episode. Thanks for listening. If you would like to find out what WHO is doing to help people with mental illness, please see the links at the bottom of the transcript page. For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.

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