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WHO Targets Poor Countries For Treatment of Mental Illness

The World Health Organization is launching new guidelines to simplify the treatment of mental and neurological disorders.

The number of people suffering from mental health disorders is huge and an overwhelming majority do not receive the care they need.

The World Health Organization estimates worldwide, more than 150 million people suffer from depression. About 125 million are affected by alcohol-use disorders and millions more suffer from diseases such as epilepsy, Alzheimer's and other dementias.

The World Health Organization says more than 75 percent of people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders living in developing countries do not receive any treatment or care.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan says people in poor countries miss out on care because it is generally believed that sophisticated and expensive technologies are essential in improving mental health.

"In other words, we face a misperception that mental health care is a luxury item, a luxury item on the health agenda ... It costs two dollars per person per year," Chan explained. "It is one of the best buys you can get. High profile disease always get the attention and mental disorders are disorders that people often do not talk about, brush aside, sweep under the carpet."

The World Health Organization says people with mental neurological and substance use disorders are often stigmatized and subject to neglect and abuse. In the majority of countries, it says less than two percent of health funds are spent on mental health.

Dr. Chan says the new guidelines provide a simple technical tool for detecting, diagnosing, and managing the most common mental health problems anywhere.

With this guide, she says busy doctors, nurses and medical assistants will be able to provide needed care despite lack of money and sophisticated facilities.

"Now, this guide, in effect, extends competence in diagnosis and management to the non-specialist, while respecting their busy schedules. Medicines are effective for many of these disorders," Chan said. "This guideline provides information on when to use them, and also when not to use them and this is important for some specific medicines. In a balanced approached, it also covers many simple and effective psychosocial interventions."

The World Health Organization and its partners have begun implementing the guidelines in six countries, including Ethiopia, Nigeria, Panama, Sierra Leone and Solomon Islands.

WHO officials say the program will help nurses in Ethiopia recognize people suffering with depression in their day-to-day work and provide psychosocial assistance. They also say doctors in Jordan and medical assistants in Nigeria will be able to treat children with epilepsy.