WHO laments global shortfall in investment in mental health

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has lamented the inability of governments across the globe, to provide mental health services for people, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when they needed mental health support the most.

World misses most 2020 mental health targets; extension of WHO Mental Health Action Plan to 2030 provides new opportunity for progress, the global health agency noted in the latest edition of the Mental Health Atlas, released on Friday, in which it painted a disappointing picture about mental health globally.

It showed that increased attention given to mental health in recent years was yet to result in a scale-up of quality mental services aligned with needs.

“It is extremely concerning that…good intentions are not being met with investments,” Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, said at the release of the report in Geneva.

“We must heed and act on this wake-up call and dramatically accelerate the scale-up of investments in mental health because there is no health without mental health.”

“Investments in mental health data and in strengthening services are needed so that countries can build back better post-COVID-19,” Dr Tarun Dua, WHO’s unit head, Department of Mental Health and substance use, said.

The cost of low investment in community-based health services is too high, she added, stating that mental, neurological and substance abuse services were the most disrupted health services during the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has provided us with a new opportunity to reflect on services, their equitable distribution and prevention programmes, so it’s an opportunity to build back better.

“Lost productivity costs a trillion dollars a year, so we should be investing, as for every dollar invested the return is five dollars,” Dr Fahmy Hanna of WHO’s Department of Mental Health and substance use, said.

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According to the report, which includes data from 171 countries, none of the targets for effective leadership and governance for mental health, provision of mental health services in communities, mental health promotion and prevention, or targets for strengthening of information systems, were close to being achieved.

In 2020, just 51 per cent of WHO’s 194 Member states reported that their mental health policy or plan was in line with international and regional human rights instruments, way short of the 80 per cent target.

And only 52 per cent of countries met the target relating to mental health promotion and prevention programmes, also well below the 80 per cent target.

The only 2020 target met was a reduction in the rate of suicide by 10 per cent, but even then, only 35 countries said they had a stand-alone prevention strategy, policy or plan, the UN Correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) quoted the report as saying.

Although gaps exist globally, there has been steady progress seen in the adoption of policies, plans and laws, as well as improvements in the capacity to report regularly, across years, on a set of core mental health indicators, the report found.

Despite this, the percentage of government health budgets spent on mental health has scarcely changed during the past years, still hovering around two per cent.

The Mental Health Atlas 2020 also showed massive inequalities in the availability of mental health resources and their allocation between high- and low-income countries and across regions.

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More encouraging was the increase in countries reporting mental health promotion and prevention programmes, from 41 per cent of Member states in 2014 to 52 per cent in 2020.

The decentralisation of mental health care to community settings has long been recommended by WHO.

However, the report found that more than 70 per cent of total government expenditure on mental health was allocated to mental hospitals in middle-income countries, compared with 35 per cent in high-income countries.

This indicated that centralised mental hospitals and institutional inpatient care still received more funds than services provided in general hospitals and primary healthcare centres in many countries, the report said.

The global targets reported on in the Mental Health Atlas were from WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan, which contained targets for 2020.

This plan has now been extended to 2030 and includes new targets for the inclusion of mental health and psychosocial support in emergency preparedness plans, the integration of mental health into primary health care, and research on mental health.

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