CHARLESTON, South Carolina — While there is much global concern toward communicable diseases in impoverished areas, mental health problems are often completely disregarded. The World Health Organization states that mental and neurological disorders are the highest cause of health issues in developing nations. Despite this, there is an extreme lack of support from government and aid organizations.
Studies show that there is a correlation between poverty and the risk for mental health illness. Lower education levels as well as trauma, violence and extreme social change are most often linked to a higher risk of mental disorders. People that live in impoverished, war-torn and underdeveloped areas are more likely to face these issues and subsequently experience mental health problems.
Mental illness is often highly debilitating, preventing people from working and causing them to rely more on family members. Failing to provide patient treatment can therefore affect economies of developing nations. This lack of care contributes to the cycle of poverty and overall development in these areas.
Overall, mental health services account for less than one percent of the average health care budget. Considering that three-quarters of those with mental disorders reside in developing nations, this one percent figure does not allow for many patients to receive care. However, as most government and alternative aid organizations fail to acknowledge the need for mental health care, the mentally ill are left with no options.
Research states that people are more likely to provide support and financial aid for a cause if they are able to empathize with those affected. Mental health services are not as marketable as other forms of aid; there are often little to no physical symptoms and many find it difficult to comprehend the effects of these diseases. This contributes to a lack of support and funding for mental health services.
A few organizations are currently working to increase funding and support for mental health care in developing nations. One of the first to be established, the BasicNeeds organization, advocates that mental health is a basic human right, not a privilege. Founder Chris Underhill established the group in 2000, after witnessing the torture and unethical treatment of mentally ill patients inside hospitals in Africa.
BasicNeeds works with mentally ill patients as well as their families and communities. The organization goes beyond fundamental medical assistance to also develop socio-economic factors for long-term improvement. BasicNeeds members work to provide advancements in policy, practice and distribution of resources as well. Since its formation, BasicNeeds has helped over half a million people across Africa and Asia.
The WHO has also created a Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) in recent years to promote improvement to global health care programs. WHO emphasizes the definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” MhGAP discusses the methods that should be used to increase coverage worldwide. The program also calls on governments and international organizations to place a greater emphasis on mental healthcare and to reflect this in their foreign and domestic policies.
While the WHO and several other groups are working to improve mental health care efforts, there is still a great deal of work to be done. In order to make sufficient progress, it is necessary for government and independent organizations to recognize the importance of mental health services and to act accordingly. Given that one in four people are affected by mental illness, mental health services need to become more of a priority across the globe.
– Meagan Douches
Sources: BasicNeeds, The Guardian, The Agenda, WHO 1, WHO 2
Photo: Huffington Post