Investing in health personnel treating mental health conditions

Sad young man gazing at the sea
© sxc

One in every four people will be affected by a mental disorder at some point of their live. Mental and neurological disorders include schizophrenia, substance abuse, epilepsy, or other disorders affecting the nervous system. Over 800'000 people commit suicide every year, due to mental disorders.

The fact is even more striking that low-income countries only have 0.05 psychiatrists and 0.42 nurses per 100 000 people, compared to 170 times more psychiatrists in high-income countries and 70 times more nurses. These are the findingsof a new report "The Mental Health Atlas 2011" released by the World Health Organization on World Mental Health Day, 10 October 2011. The report presents the latest estimate of global mental health resources available to prevent and treat mental disorders and help protect the human rights of people living with these conditions.

The report also points to the uneven distribution of the investments in mental health: majority of low- and middle-income countries allocate less than 2% of their health budget to mental health. Moreover, 80% of the mental health budget in developing countries is spent on mental hospitals that serve only 7% of patients.

Similar to noncommunicable diseases, most mental health disorders can be treated or prevented if addressed at the primary care or community level, avoiding higher health-care costs and increased risk of disability and mortality. The role of general practitioners, nurses and community health workers in addressing mental health is pivotal, as is the specific training they require. Both the number of health workers as well as in-service education are to be substantially scaled-up to alleviate the burden of these conditions.