For over a decade now, WHO has seized itself of the emergency in addressing Mental Health as developmental priority. Prior to this era, Mental Health was at best a subject for ‘hushes’ between the patient, his family, and the doctor in those few cases where such services were available. Moreover, the prevailing stigma surrounding any case of poor mental health, led and still leads families to either resort to unorthodox attempts at treatment, or to abandon the patient altogether on the streets.
Mental health as an emerging development issue
According to a policy paper published in 2010, WHO analyzed the need to Integrate Mental Health into All Development Efforts including MDGs.
Some key findings in the policy analysis included the following:
- Mental Health is one of the most neglected yet essential development issues in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs);
- Mental health represents a critical indicator of human development, serves as a key determinant of well-being, quality of life, and hope, has an impact on a range of development outcomes, and is a basis for social stability;
- Persons with mental and psychosocial disabilities represent a significant proportion of the world’s population. Millions of people worldwide have mental health conditions. An estimated one in four people globally will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime;
- Depression is the leading cause of years lost due to disability worldwide.
- The economic cost of mental health problems is vast, while reasonable investment in mental health can contribute to better mental health for people.
Losing out in part due to Silence
Economies definitely lose out on both human, financial and material resources when more of its population is affected by Mental Health. Yet, Mental health has largely been recognized as a silent crisis in Africa. There are very inadequate Mental Health services available, and the psychiatrist – patient ratio in most countries is simply overwhelming. Cultural and other societal norms also engage and encourage this silent crisis by considering the patients and their families as ‘sources of evil’ and ‘danger’, and all these factors have led to Mental Health remaining a sort of ‘taboo’ to talk about. Out of 45 African countries recently surveyed by WHO, only 19 were found to have any Mental Health Policy in place.
It can be argued that statistics are still largely unavailable as to the actual numbers of an affected population, especially in several African countries where patients are often taken to a soothsayer than to a hospital when they start showing symptoms of a nervous breakdown. This may equally jeopardize the collection of accurate data and elaboration of any concrete policies.
The Gbm-em Foundation is therefore launching a campaign to encourage the non stigmatization of mental health discussions, by encouraging the affected population to dare2talk about their problems. The non affected population will equally be encouraged to talk about their perceptions, fears and beliefs, and the medical community will be able to carry out better research and share findings and elaborate better treatment protocols as a result thereof. There is so much at stake if the world continues to lose a big majority of it population to mental disorders. Yet, Mental Health is Mental Wealth if only we start by talking about it.