Mentally ill neglected in poorer countries says WHO: New guide launched

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) are concerned that millions of people in poorer countries struggling with mental health problems are neglected and are often left untreated.

Part of the reason for this says WHO, is lack of knowledge of mental health issues on the part of health professionals, as well as lack of funds to deal with the problem, and of course social stigma that surrounds mental health problems.

“Stigma remains a serious problem, with many cases of human rights violations like chaining or beating experienced by people with mental illness. Mental health problems remain a huge stigma in Nigeria with most people, even families of victims, choosing to ignore them in the hope the problems will simply go away” Reuters quotes Nigeria’s charge d’affaires Cecilia Olufolake Yahaya as saying.

The World Health Organisation wants to address the problems of dealing with mental health issues in poorer countries and have launched the “Mental Health GAP Intervention Guide”.

The guide, which was drawn up by more than 200 experts from around the world, will help doctors and nurses to diagnose and treat not only people suffering from mental health problems such as depression, bipolar, behavioural and developmental disorders, dementia, and psychosis, but also epilepsy and drug and alcohol abuse too.

According to ‘WHO’, improving mental health care in developing countries does not have to be expensive and neither does it have to involve sophisticated equipment and highly trained professionals.

“Efforts to close the mental health gap have been impeded by a widespread assumption that improvements in mental health require sophisticated and expensive technologies, delivered in highly specialised settings by highly specialised staff” said WHO Director General Chan.

“We face a misperception that mental health care is a luxury item on the health agenda. But it costs $2 per person per year — it is one of the best buys” Chan added. Chan is hoping that the new guide will “change the landscape for mental health.”

So what about the stigma?

“Human rights are abused in a large number of countries, developed and developing. In fact it happens more often in specialized care settings than in primary care” Reuters quotes Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO’s department of mental health as saying.

Instead of being treated in specialised hospitals, people can by treated through low cost community services in smaller units by medical assistants says WHO.

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