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WHO Calls for Governments to Fund Mental Health Treatment

FILE - Children play with a therapist in the pediatric unit of the Robert Debre hospital, in Paris, France.
FILE - Children play with a therapist in the pediatric unit of the Robert Debre hospital, in Paris, France.

The World Health Organization is calling on governments to allocate the money needed to increase access to mental health treatment. WHO has published a new Mental Health Atlas marking World Mental Health Day Sunday.

Data collected from 171 countries show none of the World Health Assembly targets for the provision of mental health care by 2020 has been achieved. Therefore, WHO says it is extending its Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan to 2030.

Fahmy Hanna is a technical officer in WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Use. He says lack of money is a major reason these goals have been missed. He says governments allocate just 2.1% of their overall health budgets to mental health services.

“And in the majority of the countries, most of this budget goes to psychiatric hospitals—long-stay, in-patient facilities instead of being spent on community-based mental health services, which are more human-rights-oriented and less decentralized and more accessible to the population,” Hanna said.

The WHO reports more than a billion people globally suffer from mental health illness. The most common such illnesses include anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar and eating disorders, as well as psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia.

The data in the atlas was collected in 2019 and reflects the status of pre-pandemic mental health services. However, health officials agree COVID-19 is having a major impact on people’s mental health and more investments must be made in treating them.

Hanna says WHO has carried out two surveys during the pandemic. He says the findings show major disruptions in services offered to people suffering from neurological illnesses and substance abuse.

“At the time, where there was cause for scaling up mental health services around the world, we found from data of the surveys that were conducted in 2021 that actually 23% of countries have reported scaling back their community-based mental health services,” he added.

Besides the human costs, WHO says skimping on investing in mental health makes no economic sense. It says lost productivity from depression and anxiety alone, two of the most common mental health disorders, costs the global economy $1 trillion each year. However, it notes there is a return of $5 for every dollar invested in treating these conditions.