The Global Mental Health Emergency – Mental health is part of good health and well being

Globally, before the pandemic, it was estimated that 14 percent of the world’s children had experienced a mental health condition. According to the World Health Organization, one in seven 10 to 19-year-olds have experienced a mental disorder. For adolescents’ depression and anxiety are the leading causes of illness, and suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for 15 to 19-year-olds. Globally the cost of this mental health crisis costs 386 billion a year.

Access to treatment is difficult no matter where someone lives. According to the World Health Organization, there is a mental health treatment gap, with an estimated 70% of people who want and need help having difficulty accessing services. The mental health gap is, in part, due to four problems. One, mental health is not integrated into primary care health delivery. Second, lack of capacity to diagnose and treat mental health issues. There is a lack of trained mental health providers globally. Third, the persistent stigma around mental illness means individuals and their families do not seek out diagnoses and treatments from health care providers. And fourth, preventive mental health is not built into the health care and education system.

The solutions are to train and integrate mental health into primary care, thus creating a one health system. The one health system approach would help reduce the stigma of mental health, which is often seen and treated separately from the primary care system of health and well-being. This means mental health assessments and treatments must be built into primary care providers’ training. Mental health treatment should be reimbursed similar to physical illness.

However, it is not enough as we cannot train enough clinicians to treat all those in need, especially those with less healthcare access. As part of building the mental health capacity into the system, we have to train non-clinicians such as community health workers to provide community-level mental health care. They would be supervised by clinicians and share in the task of assessment, treatment, and ongoing mental health care. Lastly, we have to establish and develop preventive health for children. Treatment is not enough. The onset of most mental health issues is during childhood and adolescence. Suppose we create integrated mental prevention, assessment, and treatment in all schools and pediatric health care. It could be possible to reduce mental health-related disabilities and early preventable deaths among children. Evaluation and treatment of childhood mental health using evidence-based interventions is a way to reduce adult mental health issues. These solutions can and should be done in the United States and globally.

Globally, UNICEF is currently working to do these solutions. They are now asking Congress to pass The Mental Health in International Development and Humanitarian Settings (MINDS) Act (H.R.3988/S.2105) which would support the integration of mental health services in U.S. foreign assistance programming, with a particular focus on children, their families, and other vulnerable populations. Call your Congressperson to make sure they know you support this important bill. See link.

If we invest in the prevention, assessment, and treatment of mental health as part of a one health system, we can ensure everyone can be part of and contribute to a greater society.