Each and every day sick people in the developing world are being helped through medicine as well as good health organizations and that number is only rising. Having said that, one of the major parts of health reform and improvement has not been addressed at all in impoverished countries: that of mental health.
In many parts of Africa and Asia, an extreme way to keep the “crazies” in check, is to chain people in shackles and put them in cages to ensure their control. But even in less extreme situations, outdated patient wards, where neglect and abuse have been reported, exist. This clearly demonstrates that mental health has taken the back seat in international development.
“People with mental disabilities experience human rights violations and discrimination, including in the fields of education, employment, and housing. Some countries even prohibit people from voting, marrying, or having children.” – Michelle Funk, from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO in Geneva
It is easy to understand why this has happened. Unlike other issues in the world, we can’t see the problem with mental health. If there is a lack of water in a village, we can see what is the matter and help with irrigation systems. If there is an Ebola outbreak, we are able to see the discolorations and hematomas on sick peoples’ skins. If someone has a mental health disorder, we have nothing – no visible symptoms and therefore no real proof.
However, just because we cannot see it does not mean that these health problems are not real and extremely dangerous. 450 million people suffer from a mental disorder and three-quarters of them live in low and middle-income countries. This is partly due to the fact that rates of mental disorders tend to double after emergencies. Such sicknesses pose serious problems to society. For example, it is linked to high economic costs. Losing gainful employment and therefore earning no family income, these people’s diseases are very harmful to society. Furthermore, they pose a large burden in terms of mortality and are associated with human rights violations. That is why mental health should be a priority for international development organizations.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental disorders are also correlated with many other health conditions: noncommunicable diseases (cancer, cardiovascular disease), communicable diseases (HIV/Aids), sexual
/reproductive health of mothers (gynecological morbidity, childhood development), and injuries. A large survey done by the WHO showed that 76-85 percent of serious mental health cases in less-developed countries did not receive any treatment. For example, in Nigeria only 10 percent of cases were adequately treated in the previous and even in China, a rapidly developing country, only 11 percent of severe conditions were addressed. If such mental disorders could be tackled in the right way with the correct treatment, these various different health problems could be decreased as well.
Some organizations have tried to reach out and undertake this problem. The WHO mental health Global Action Programme, for instance, has attempted to close the gap between what is urgently needed and what is available to decrease mental diseases in the developing world. Its four strategies focus on information, policy and service development, advocacy, and research. While this is a good start, more effort needs to be put into raising awareness about mental health and, additionally, global health needs to include it. We cannot go on by only looking at sickness in terms of rashes and scars. We have to understand the invisible symptoms and help people with mental health disabilities. International development organizations have to take mental health into consideration.