Mental disorders are just as severe as physical illnesses. In the last few years, international bodies, health advocates and campaigners have tried to create attention around mental health recognizing it as a global responsibility that it is. While this has been a great step in promoting mental health, the world, particularly developing countries need more than awareness.
Mental illness is indeed a global health concern. A popular statistics found by the World Health Organization and adopted by many government agencies and NGOs is that ‘one in four’ people will be affected by mental illnesses at some point in their lifetime. Suicide, most times caused by mental disorders is also reported to be the second leading cause of death in 15-19 year old. In spite of this high rate, many countries still lack little progress in advancing mental health.
Treatment rather than advice
Mental health advocacy is good. But right now, professional treatment rather than advice or awareness is what those afflicted need. Mental health advocates and NGOs direct their campaigns at awareness- increasing knowledge about the illness and advocating against stigma. These projects literally leave mental health sufferers out of the picture. At best, ‘counseling’ not actually done by professionals is the only available treatment.
There are NGOs that just anybody can join and begin to give counseling sessions in no time- without a license, training or experience. That is, mental health sufferers do not need more than counseling and this counseling can be done by anybody. This unethical attitude shows that the severity of mental illness is still not fully understood even by so called ‘advocates’.
It is understandable that campaigners and advocates have very little resources, some of which may have been personally raised. Nevertheless an important question is: are we really improving people’s mental health with awareness alone? If the limited resources used for awareness were put into professional treatment, would more progress be made?
Resources show commitment
Research shows that mental illnesses cost the world $2.5 trillion annually. That is, mental illness is not only threatening to individuals and families but also to economic stability. In spite of this, mental health receives less than 1% global aid showing that there are no significant investments from governments that recognize mental health as a priority. This is where a fall short on treatment begins.
In developing countries, private-owned mental health facilities function better than public-owned facilities. This means that low-income and middle-income cannot afford professional care for their mental health. Sadly, communities and people with high socio-economic demands have the most needs for mental health but these same communities have the least resources and are still not fairly distributed among people.
The available public resources for mental health show the extent to government’s commitment. Providing resources does not necessarily imply direct funding. It can also mean paying more attention to mental health related careers like social work, psychology and guidance and counseling.
Mental health awareness has been helpful to debunk myths, increase basic knowledge and reduce stigma surrounding mental health. However, with an alarming suicide rate of 800,000 deaths per year, mental illness treatment and intervention surely needs improvement and more commitment. As WHO Director General claims: “every nation in the world is a ‘developing’ country when it comes to mental health”.