Noncommunicable diseases and mental health

NMH Newsletter

Issue 1, January 2011

Mental Health and Substance Abuse

WHO launches new report on mental health and development

A new WHO report on mental health and development - Targeting people with mental health conditions as a vulnerable group – was launched 16 September 2010 at the United Nations in New York.

The report found that 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.

According to the report, most 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 psycho- social 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.

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;
  • improving social services for people with mental and psychosocial disabilities.

It also states 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.

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

mhGAP Forum held, new intervention guide launched

The second Mental Health Gap (mhGAP) Forum was held at WHO Headquarters in Geneva on 7 October, during which the new mhGAP Intervention Guide for mental, neurological and substance use disorders in non-specialized health settings was launched by the Director-General of WHO, Dr Margaret Chan.

Attending the forum were 22 Member States, represented by 11 Ambassadors and Chargé d'affaires, as well as UN Agencies, WHO Collaborating Centres, academic institutions and international associations and federations.

Millions of people with common, but untreated, mental, neurological and substance use disorders can now benefit from the intervention guide, which details new simplified diagnosis and treatment guidelines that are designed to facilitate the management of depression, alcohol use disorders, epilepsy and other common mental disorders in the primary health- care setting.

The Intervention guide extends competence in diagnosis and management to non-mental health specialists including doctors, nurses and other health providers. These evidence- based guidelines are presented as flow charts to simplify the process of providing care in the primary health-care setting.

WHO estimates that more than 75% of people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders -- including nearly 95 million people with depression and more than 25 million people with epilepsy -- living in developing countries do not receive any treatment or care. Placing the ability to diagnose and treat them into the primary health care system will sig- nificantly increase the number of people who can access care.

ATLAS 2010: First global report on substance use disorders launched

To better prevent and treat alcohol and illicit drug use disorders, the WHO launched on 14 December the first global report on resources currently in use to respond to these health concerns.

The Atlas on substance abuse: Resources for the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders has collected information from 147 countries, representing 88% of the world's population. It has a particular focus on low- and middle-income countries.

"Alcohol and illicit drugs are harming millions of people in many ways, from becoming dependent on such substances to causing a range of other health problems, such as injuries, cardiovascular diseases, HIV and hepatitis C or cancers," says Dr Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

Dr Saxena adds: "WHO's new Atlas on substance abuse lays out what resources exist today in different parts of the world to reduce this harm, and highlights critical gaps in service delivery which should be overcome."

The Atlas analyses issues such as levels of government funding, staffing, policies, legislation and information, detailing measures that meet health needs for people with substance use disorders, and highlighting gaps and challenges.

The Atlas was launched during the International Seminar on Treatment Systems for Substance Use Disorders in Valencia, Spain, on 14-15 December 2010. The seminar was attended by experts from around the world who discussed the current status and recent developments on treatment for substance use disorders, with a particular focus on low- and middle-income countries.

The seminar was followed by a two-day technical meeting to discuss possible technical tools and ways of assessing treatment systems for substance use disorders in selected countries and administrative regions.

The seminar and technical meeting were organized by WHO's Mental Health and Substance Abuse department with support from the Government of Valencia and collaboration with the Valencia Health Agency's Directorate-General for Drug Dependence.

WHO national counterparts meeting on global alcohol strategy

The first meeting of the WHO network of national counterparts on implementing the global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol will take place at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on 8-11 February 2011.

The strategy was endorsed by the Sixty-third World Health Assembly in May 2010 and the counterparts meeting will discuss and elaborate on mechanisms and plans to implement it.

The meeting will also discuss ways to support and complement national and regional efforts to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. Also participating in the meeting will be representatives of regional economic integration organizations and WHO staff from regional and country offices.