By Diana Gregor
Published August 18, 2010
Mental and neurological disorders represent the leading causes of global health disabilities. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that More than 80 percent of people with mental and psychosocial disabilities live in developing countries and have little access to any form of psychological or psychiatric treatment.
People with mental disabilities are charged with a massive stigma, forcing many to remain hidden and excluded from mainstream society.
“People with mental disabilities experience human rights violations and discrimination, including in the fields of education, employment, and housing. Some countries even prohibit people from voting, marrying, or having children,” says Michelle Funk of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO in Geneva,Switzerland.
Because there are often no tangible symptoms, mental health remains a neglected issue by a large number of governments in developing countries. Charities struggle to raise funds to fill the gap. Furthermore, the incorrect belief that mental conditions are not treatable is widespread in the developing world.
Mental and physical health problems are interwoven as mental health has a major impact on physical health status and vice-versa.
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“People living in poverty are at increased risk of developing mental and psychosocial disabilities,” says Funk. “People with mental disabilities are more likely to descend into poverty.”
Poverty and hunger are immense risk factors for mental health. Confronting mental illness in developing countries is not only vital to eradicating poverty, but also crucial to reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.
Ronald Kessler, professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School in the United States of America, says, “The biggest problem with regard to mental disorders is anxiety. This particularly affects refugees, who are often scared to death because of the uncertainties they face.”
The effects of natural disaster, terrorist attacks, and other public health emergencies can cause long-lasting traumas, stress, and anxiety. Studies show that survivors with a high-intensity exposure to catastrophes have a high risk of prolonged traumatic injury, including a range of psychiatric disorders.
The low importance attached to psychiatric treatment poses a problem to those who are uneducated and who do not realize the importance of psychological care. For them, mental illness represents a personal problem, not something requiring the attention of a healthcare provider.
WHO confirms that rates of mental disorder tend to double after emergencies.
William Eaton, professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, USA, explains, “There is evidence that mental disorders are predictors for future health problems. Depression, for instance, raises the risk of suffering a heart attack or a stroke.”
According to WHO, the global psychiatrist rate varies from 0.04 psychiatrists per population of 100,000 in Africa to 9.80 per population of 100,000 in Europe. Sonia Chehil, from the Department of International Psychiatry at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, told MediaGlobal, “Guinea-Bissau has no psychiatrists, psychologists, or social workers. Liberia is listed as having one psychiatrist and one psychiatric nurse. There are countries that have virtually no mental health services.”
Another common myth has it that mental illness cannot be treated in an affordable way. However, scaling up a full package of primary care-led mental health services for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and hazardous use of alcohol over a 10-year period would cost twenty cents per capita per year in low-income countries.
The low priority governments give to psychiatric treatment poses numerous problems for those who are poor and afflicted with some kind of illness. Nevertheless, a little bit of funding and a change in perception has the potential to go a long way.
A MediaGlobal Article