Message from the Director-General

World Health Report, Annual 2001 | Go to article overview

Message from the Director-General


Mental illness is not a personal failure. It doesn't happen only to other people. We all remember a time not too long ago when we couldn't openly speak about cancer. That was a family secret. Today, many of us still do not want to talk about AIDS. These bafflers are gradually being broken down.

The theme of World Health Day 2001 was "Stop exclusion -- Dare to care". Its message was that there is no justification for excluding people with a mental illness or brain disorder from our communities -- there is room for everyone. Yet many of us still shy away from, or feign ignorance of such individuals -- as if we do not dare to understand and care. The theme of this report is "New understanding, new hope". It shows how science and sensibility are combining to break down real and perceived barriers to care and cure in mental health. For there is a new understanding that offers real hope to the mentally ill. Understanding how genetic, biological, social and environmental factors come together to cause mental and brain illness. Understanding how inseparable mental and physical health really are, and how their influence on each other is complex and profound. And this is just the beginning. I believe that talking about health without mental health is a little like tuning an instrument and leaving a few discordant notes.

WHO is making a simple statement: mental health -- neglected for far too long -- is crucial to the overall well-being of individuals, societies and countries and must be universally regarded in a new light.

Our call has been joined by the United Nations General Assembly, which this year marks the 10th anniversary of the rights of the mentally ill to protection and care. I believe The World Health Report 2001 gives renewed emphasis to the UN principles laid down a decade ago. The first of these principles is that there shall be no discrimination on the grounds of mental illness. Another is that as far as possible, every patient shall have the right to be treated and cared for in his or her own community. And a third is that every patient shall have the right to be treated in the least restrictive environment, with the least restrictive or intrusive treatment.

Throughout the year, our Member States have taken our struggle forward by focusing on various aspects of mental health whether it be medical, social or political. This year WHO is also supporting the development and launching of global campaigns on depression management and suicide prevention, schizophrenia and epilepsy. The World Health Assembly 2001 discussed mental health in all its dimensions. For us at the World Health Organization and in the extended community of health professionals, this heightened and sustained focus is an opportunity and a challenge.

A lot remains to be done. We do not know how many people are not getting the help they need -- help that is available, help that can be obtained at no great cost. Initial estimates suggest that about 450 million people alive today suffer from mental or neurological disorders or from psychosocial problems such as those related to alcohol and drug abuse.

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