A New Plan for Mental Illness, the Silent Killer

They came with stories.

There was a video of a Ghanaian man suffering from a psychosis. His family had put his foot through a hole in a log and secured it there with nails. He stayed attached to the log for 2 years.

Another video captured a Peruvian man’s spiral into depression.

And Saima Hossain, chair of Bangladesh’s National Advisory Committee for Autism and Neurodevelopment Disorders, spoke of her own traumas during a #WHA72 technical briefing on mental health on Wednesday. 

Hossain suffered the loss of 19 members of her family in a brutal government coup, grew up with a traumatized father who suffered from schizophrenia and lost her mother-in-law to suicide. “I saw violence and maladaptive behaviors of all kinds,” said Hossain, now a licensed school psychologist. “And I survived.”

The briefing’s speakers also brought data: Nearly 1 billion people are affected by mental health issues. More than three-quarters of people with mental health problems in low- and middle-income countries receive no care at all. People with serious mental conditions die 2 decades earlier than those without mental illness. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15-29. 

“There is no health without mental health,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The problem is that services and care for mental health issues lag far behind those for physical health, he said.

To address the issues, WHO has launched a special initiative on mental health seeking to raise $60 million to bring quality affordable care to 100 million more people in 12 priority countries by 2023. The effort would enhance mental health care in primary care settings, increase specialty care and services, and bolster community support as well.

“It’s a silent killer,” Tedros said, “and  we cannot understand and fight it unless we all do it together. Today, we say it is time to scale up, to fight the silent killer more aggressively.” 

Queen Mathilde of the Belgians said mental health issues have not been considered a priority in health. “This means care is far too modest,” she said. “Care for mental health must be mainstreamed.” 

The Queen noted that new forms of care are being developed to offer alternatives to medical solutions and institutionalization. A video shown before her talk followed a Belgian woman who receives mental health care from a team who visits her at home. 

Peter Yaro, executive director for BasicNeeds Ghana, said 3 million people in his country need mental health treatment. His organization has worked to expand community-based treatment, training more than 2,000 people. 

“Much more giant strides are needed,” Yaro said. “There is much to be done. It requires money and political will. We really need to really put our efforts on mental health.” 

Ed. Notes: Check out the latest news from #WHA72 here.
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