Having a mental disorder in the developing world can be grim. Up to 85 percent of people with severe mental disorders in low- and middle-income
countries receive no treatment, according to the World Health
Organization ( WHO). People with mental disorders often face
inhuman living conditions and harmful, degrading treatment
practices in health-care facilities. They are frequently denied the
right to work, go to school and have families.
That may soon change, thanks to WHO’s new
Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013–20. Adopted
by the World Health Assembly in May and formally launched
in October, the plan is a call to action that will help guide
countries as they strive to ensure that all citizens with mental
disorders receive the treatment they need. The plan has four
specific objectives: strengthening leadership in mental health,
providing comprehensive mental health and social services
in community-based settings, implementing prevention and
mental health promotion strategies and strengthening research,
evidence and information systems for mental health.
The plan also sets ambitious targets for countries to strive for,
including a 10 percent reduction in suicide rates and a 20 percent
increase in service coverage for severe mental disorders by 2020.
The plan also includes a menu of policy options that countries can
adopt as they implement the recommended actions.
At the plan’s October roll-out, WHO Director-General
Margaret Chan, MD, called it a landmark achievement.
“It focuses international attention on a long-neglected
problem, and it does so with a welcome sense of urgency,” she
said. “It is a signal that mental health deserves much higher
APA President Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD, joined delegations
from around the world at the plan’s roll-out in Geneva.
“Psychology has played an instrumental role in the
preliminary work related to this plan and will continue to
actively advance the plan and its implementation worldwide,”
she says. “The plan’s interdisciplinary nature and focus on
public mental health are impressive.”
The action plan was developed by and for member states,
explains psychologist Michelle Funk, PhD, of WHO, who
coordinates mental health policy and service development,
human rights and legislation. And those member states
relied on input from psychologists and other mental health
professionals, she says.
The result is a plan that has many elements that will appeal
to psychologists, says Funk.
For example, the plan promotes a recovery model instead
of the medical model that predominates in most of the world,
says Funk. “We’re not just talking about treatment, but looking
comprehensive plan to improve services worldwide.
BY REBECCA A. CLAY