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People with mental disabilities cannot be forgotten

WHO urges development programmes to include people with mental and psychosocial disabilities

News release

People with mental and psychosocial disabilities are among the most marginalized groups in developing countries. Even though development actors have pledged to focus their work on the most vulnerable in a community, many programmes continue to ignore and exclude this vulnerable group.

New report on mental health and development

This is the message of a new World Health Organization (WHO) report on mental health and development - Targeting people with mental health conditions as a vulnerable group - which is being launched today at the United Nations in New York.

According to the report, the majority of development and poverty alleviation programmes do not reach persons with mental or psychosocial disabilities. For example, between 75% and 85% do not have access to any form of mental health treatment. Mental and psychosocial disabilities are associated with rates of unemployment as high as 90%. Furthermore people are not provided with educational and vocational opportunities to meet their full potential.

"A greater attention from the development community is needed to reverse this situation", says Dr Ala Alwan, Assistant Director-General for Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health at WHO. "The lack of visibility, voice and power of people with mental and psychosocial disabilities means that an extra effort needs to be made to reach out to and involve them more directly in development programmes."

Mental health conditions responsible for a great deal of mortality and disability

The challenge is enormous. An estimated one in four people globally will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Mental health conditions are responsible for a great deal of mortality and disability, accounting for 8.8% and 16.6% of the total burden of disease due to health conditions in low- and middle-income countries, respectively. Depression will be the second highest cause of disease burden in middle-income countries and the third highest in low income countries by 2030.

How to address the specific needs of people with mental and psychosocial disabilities

The report calls for development actors to address the needs of people with mental and psychosocial disabilities in development work by:

  • recognizing the vulnerability of this group and including them in all development initiatives,
  • scaling up services for mental health in primary care;
  • including people in income generating programmes and providing social and disability benefits,
  • involving people themselves in the design of development programmes and projects;
  • incorporating human rights protections in national policies and laws;
  • including children and adolescents with mental and psychosocial disabilities in education programmes; and
  • improving social services for people with mental and psychosocial disabilities.

WHO is working jointly with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) in order to integrate mental health into the development agenda and programmes at national level.

"We need to break down the barriers that continue to exclude persons with mental or psychosocial disabilities" says Mr Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary General of UNDESA. "In order for them to have access to better opportunities and to benefit from the fruits of development, they must also be involved in the design of policies and programmes related to development."

The WHO report stresses that investing in people with mental health conditions, development outcomes can be improved. Mental health priority conditions include depression, psychoses, suicide, epilepsy, dementia, conditions due to the use of alcohol and drugs and mental health conditions in children.

Media contacts:

Dr Michelle Funk
Coordinator, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Department
WHO, Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 3855
Mobile: +41 79 475 5458
Email: funkm@who.int

Dr Shekhar Saxena
Director, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Department
WHO, Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 3625
Mobile: +41 79 308 9865
E-mail: saxenas@who.int

Nyka Alexander
Communications Officer
WHO, Geneva
Telephone: + 41 22 791 2696
Mobile: +41 79 540 7137
E-mail: alexandern@who.int

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