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WHO Report Highlights Global Shortfall in Investment in Mental Health

None of the targets for effective leadership and governance for mental health, provision of mental health services in community-based settings, mental health promotion and prevention, and strengthening of information systems, we're close to being achieved.
The World Health Organization’s new Mental Health Atlas released Friday paints a picture of the world's failure to provide people with the mental health services they need, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting a growing need for mental health support.

The latest edition of the Atlas, which includes data from 171 countries, shows the increased attention given to mental health in recent years has yet to result in a scale-up of quality mental services that are aligned with needs. 

Issued every three years, the Atlas is a compilation of data provided by countries around the world on mental health policies, legislation, financing, human resources, availability and utilization of services and data collection systems. It is also the mechanism for monitoring progress towards meeting the targets in WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan.

“It is extremely concerning that, despite the evident and increasing need for mental health services, which has become even more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic, good intentions are not being met with investment,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization said in a statement  “We must heed and act on this wake-up call and dramatically accelerate the scale-up of investment in mental health because there is no health without mental health.”

None of the targets for effective leadership and governance for mental health, provision of mental health services in community-based settings, mental health promotion and prevention, and strengthening of information systems, we're close to being achieved.

In 2020, just 51 per cent of WHO’s 194 Member States reported that their mental health policy or plan was in line with international and regional human rights instruments, way short of the 80 per cent target. And only 52 per cent of countries met the target relating to mental health promotion and prevention programmes, also well below the 80 per cent target. 

The only 2020 target met was a reduction in the rate of suicide by 10 per cent, but even then, only 35 countries said they had a stand-alone prevention strategy, policy or plan. Steady progress was evident, however, in the adoption of mental health policies, plans and laws, as well as in improvements in the capacity to report on a set of core mental health indicators.

However, the percentage of government health budgets spent on mental health has scarcely changed during the last years, still hovering around 2 per cent.

Even when policies and plans included estimates of required human and financial resources, just 39 per cent of responding countries indicated that the necessary human resources had been allocated and 34 per cent that the required financial resources had been provided.

There was, however, an increase in the percentage of countries reporting that treatment of people with specific mental health conditions like psychosis, bipolar disorder and depression is included in national health insurance or reimbursement schemes from 73 per cent in 2017 to 80 per cent or 55 per cent of Member States in 2020.

More encouraging was the increase in countries reporting mental health promotion and prevention programmes, from 41 per cent of Member States in 2014 to 52 per cent in 2020. However, 31 per cent of the total reported programmes did not have dedicated human and financial resources, 27 per cent did not have a defined plan, and 39 per cent had no documented evidence of progress and/or impact.

The global median number of mental health workers per 100 000 population has increased slightly from nine workers in 2014 to 13 workers per 100 000 population in 2020. However, there was a very high variation between countries of different income levels, with the number of mental health workers in high-income countries more than 40 times higher than in low-income countries.

The new data from the Mental Health Atlas shows us that we still have a very long way to go in making sure that everyone, everywhere, has access to quality mental health care,” said Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use at WHO. 

“But I am encouraged by the renewed vigour that we saw from governments as the new targets for 2030 were discussed and agreed and am confident that together we can do what is necessary to move from baby steps to giant leaps forward in the next 10 years.”

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