Editorial: World Health Day on April 7, 2001 the Theme Is Mental Health

Article excerpt

Three major events will take place in 2001 within the framework of the World Health Organization: first, the World Health Day on April 7th was devoted to mental health, and it was followed by a discussion on mental health issues during the World Health Assembly in May. This forum, which meets annually, convenes the highest health authorities world-wide. World Health Day increases awareness world-wide, while the Assembly involves Ministers of Health committing themselves to work to improve services. Finally, by mid-October, the World Health Report, an update on the health status around the globe, will be launched; next year, the main feature is mental health. 2001 will thus provide ample opportunities for mental health workers to make their voices heard, and will enable their message to reach all quarters.

The decision of the World Health Organization to place mental health high on the world agenda comes in recognition of a number of factors: the burden of mental disorders is considerable (1) while efficacious methods of intervention to reduce it are now available. However, the burden may remain with us since the gaps in accessing first contact and treatment are very wide. In depressive disorders, a recent WHO publication found a considerable time lag from the onset of the disorder until consultation (2) as well as many not going on to receive treatment, so that suffering and disability continue to run a protracted course. On World Health Day the findings of a global study reported that of the 181 member countries of WHO (98.7% of the world population), 43% of the countries have no mental health policy, 23% have no mental health legislation, 38% have no community mental health care facilities and 41% have no treatment of severe mental disorders available in primary health care.

The World Health Report, authored by members of the Department of Social Medicine of Harvard University, indicated that the burden of mental disorders could be reduced, provided that technologies currently available become used, services are improved, and health public policies are enacted. Importantly, none of these strategies are beyond reach of most if not all countries of the world (3). This optimistic view could become a reality if decision-makers and the public in general become aware of the magnitude and impact of the mental disorders, and that society-made barriers on the way to care are drastically reduced. This complex process will need to be fueled by continuous and strategically oriented efforts made by mental health advocates, consumers, and professionals. The World Health Day will provide such an opportunity.

The World Health Day of 1959 was the first to be devoted to mental health. The achievements since 1959 are most encouraging: new and effective psychotropic drugs are being continuously developed; psychotherapies (e.g., cognitive) of proven effects are now in use; mental health service research has made important findings about the benefits of community-based alternatives of care; the brain in both health and disease is accessed through imaging; molecular biology is unraveling the role of genes in the causation of disorders; the role of psychosocial factors in the therapy and ,rehabilitation of severe disorders has been documented. Some governments, e.g., the USA, have made public their recognition of the importance of mental health care and have published an official report on the subject (4). Prior to the publication, the president and the vice-president of the USA and their spouses sponsored and actively participated in the White House all day Conference on Mental Health Care. …