Washington, D.C. 2 October 2019 (PAHO) -- Mental health problems are the single largest cause of disabilities in the world. Some of the major disabilities are depression, anxiety, dementia, and alcohol abuse. Together, an estimated 20 percent of lost healthy days are due to mental issues. And globally, only an estimated 10 percent of people who need attention or treatment for mental health problems receive it.
These were among the issues outlined by mental health experts at a Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) event about advances in the treatment of mental health issues at the first level of care during a side-event of the Organization’s 57th Directing Council, a meeting of health ministers from throughout the Americas.
Argentina and Chile hosted the event. Participants included Dr. Devora Kestel, Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse for the World Health Organization (WHO), PAHO Deputy Director, Isabella Danel, Argentinian Minister of Health, Adolfo Rubinstein, and Public Health Undersecretary of the Chilean Ministry of Health, Paula Daza. Health ministers and officials from Peru and other PAHO member countries also participated.
Country representatives shared their experiences of transforming the approach to mental health, from mental health hospitals to community-based mental health care centered on primary health care. They also stressed the importance of prevention and early detection, the community mental health model, and the need to integrate mental health services into primary health care. They also highlighted the human rights approach and the need to continue fighting stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental illness and prevents people from accessing the treatment they need.
Presenters noted that every 40 seconds, someone in the world takes his or her own life. Among 15- to 29-year-olds, suicide is the second-leading cause of death globally and the third-leading cause in the Americas. Meanwhile, only 2% of health budgets in the Americas on average are spent on mental health.
In some countries, the number of mental health specialists is inadequate, so human resource development is a priority, including training of both new specialists and those who work at primary health care facilities.
The mental health event was recorded and is available on: