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Researchers Say Mental Health Neglected Globally


A report by a team a team of international medical researchers says mental health is being neglected across the world, but more so in developing countries. From London, Tendai Maphosa has more for VOA.

The report, published in The Lancet medical journal, says mental health problems remain neglected and deeply stigmatized globally.

The report says about 30 percent of the world's population suffers some form of mental disorder, but at least two-thirds of those affected receive inadequate or no treatment, even in developed countries with the best resources.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Professor Martin Prince of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London put what he described as "the burden of mental health worldwide" in context.

"Neuropsychiatric conditions are the biggest single contributor to the burden of disease among ... non-communicable diseases," ," Professor Prince said. "Twenty eight percent of all the burden from non-communicable diseases comes from neuropsychiatric conditions. That is more than cardiovascular disease, that is more than cancer, and this is mainly because of the chronic disabling effects of psychosis, of depression, of bipolar disorder, and substance and alcohol use disorder."

Prince said the impact of mental health conditions is underestimated. He said only 40,000 deaths are attributed to mental illness annually across the world, but the reality is 800,000 people commit suicide each year because of such illnesses as schizophrenia, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and anxiety.

The report says the situation is worse in poor countries as a result of scarce financial resources. It points out that 90 percent of sufferers in developing countries receive no care.

In Zambia, for instance, the mentally ill are mostly neglected and in some cases hidden away by families ashamed of having a relative with such a disorder. In a lot of developing countries, factors such as witchcraft, demonic possession and ritual cleansing are also blamed for mental illness.

The report attacked institutions such as the World Health Organization for making lofty statements of intent that have not been followed by action.

The Lancet editor, Dr. Richard Horton, said the report aims to have mental health accorded the attention it deserves.

"One of the key conclusions from this report is that there has been a critical failure of leadership across countries, agencies, funders and the medical profession itself, and that failure has continued to stigmatize mental ill health, marginalize those with mental health problems," Dr. Horton said. "This report aims to draw a line between that era of neglect and what we believe can be a new social scientific and political movement to make mental health a vital interest for the future."

The report says almost one-third of countries worldwide have no budget for mental health, and one-fifth of those that have set aside money spend less than one percent of their total health budget on it.

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