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The World Health Organization announces first-ever international forum on community mental health services

In an effort to reduce the huge global burden of disease linked to mental disorders around the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) is launching the first ever global forum about community-based psychosocial rehabilitation services.

These rehabilitation services represent an alternative to psychiatric hospitals, and aim to provide local care to people with severe mental health disorders, including medication, psychological support, and rehabilitation activities. Services can include protected apartments where patients can live, and opportunities for them to work. An estimated 450 million people worldwide are affected by mental disorders.

WHO is inviting people to write the Organization about community-based psychosocial rehabilitation projects that have worked well and about those which have not been successful. During the first phase of this forum, running from now through September 30, 2005, WHO encourages individuals, families, members of professional, healthcare and non-governmental organizations, and mental health representatives and providers around the world to tell us about their range of experiences.

"This is an innovative approach to finding out what works and what doesn't in community-based psychosocial rehabilitation", said Benedetto Saraceno, director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse for WHO. "It is important that individuals, their families and those working in the mental health sector who have had first-hand experience give voice to the successes and how improvements could be made."

The shift to community-based rehabilitation is the most important advancement in services for people with serious mental disorders. Rehabilitation in the community is much more cost-effective and allows people to remain in the community with their families, friends and colleagues. The 2001 World Health Report titled "Mental Health: New Understanding, New Hope" recommends replacing large mental hospitals with community psychosocial rehabilitation facilities, which can provide better and earlier care, are more respectful of human rights and can help limit the stigma of mental health treatment.

However, as hospital beds are reduced, quality community services must improve. If not, there is a risk of increased burden on the family, increased medical problems and increased homelessness.

WHO will publish selected submissions in a report that will highlight issues, concerns and successful projects in developing community psychosocial rehabilitation services. This document will be of critical importance for WHO, and for countries to help providers, families and individuals develop plans to make a successful shift. An international conference will be planned in future as a part of this forum.

Notes to editors

You are invited to include the details below, particularly in local newspapers and broadcast reports.

Individuals, families, mental health professionals, workers and providers, and government representatives are invited to send letters or reports on this topic to WHO's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse by September 30, 2005. These letters or reports should be no more than 500 words and should include the following information:

  • Description of services before the changes;
  • Description of what happened;
  • Description of the mental health system after the changes;
  • Lessons learned.

The changes described can be from any time period between 1980 and 2005. Letters or reports can be submitted by e-mail to:
or by regular mail to:
Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse,
World Health Organization,
20, Avenue Appia, Ch-1211 Geneva, Switzerland.

For more information contact:

Dr José Bertolote
Management of Mental and Brain Disorders, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse
Telephone: +41 22 791 3627/3618

Dr Thomas Barrett
Senior Medical Officer
Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse
Telephone: +41 22 7913512
Fax: +41 22 7914160

Jane McElligott
Communications Officer, Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health
World Health Organization
Telephone: +41 22 791 3353
Mobile phone: +41 79 477 17 40