We know that mental health causes a tremendous burden to healthcare systems, both at a global level and within the UK. With the lack of obvious physical symptoms, mental health conditions often go unnoticed or undiagnosed which means the burden remains. It is up to us, not just mental health professionals, but everyone, to create pressure that will influence mental health policy and help those who are affected by the condition.
To coincide with this year's World Mind Matters Day 2017, the World Psychiatric Association has revealed that of 52 countries of the Commonwealth, only 48% have mental health policy. Low income countries are more likely to have a mental health policy than those with a high income, despite numbers being smaller.
Worryingly, our research found that for those countries with a mental health policy:
• Only 16% refer to equity of resources between physical and mental illness.
• 56% of the policies do not explicitly promote deinstitutionalisation.
• Almost half (44%) of policies do not explicitly promote the integration of mental health services into general health services.
• Only half address mental health promotion and emphasise the need for research and evaluation in their mental health policies.
This has led me and my colleagues at the WPA to call for urgent change. We urge that national health ministers throughout the Commonwealth either introduce new mental health policy or review current policies to ensure that those with mental health problems receive help, care and treatment on an equal basis with other citizens.
We call on national policy and law-makers in the 11 countries identified by our research to play their part by putting in place mental health policy to ensure that individuals affected by mental health problems receive the care and treatment they so urgently need and to ensure that mental health sector gets adequate attention.
As the President of the WPA, I have been working for many years to bring about change. It is unacceptable that there are still countries of the Commonwealth not doing enough to protect the rights of people with mental disorders. As such, I would urge for mental health and the associated stigma and discrimination to be discussed as a priority during the Commonwealth Summit in London in April 2018. Not only this, but the WPA also invites the Presidents of global mental health organisations to come together at the World Congress in Berlin in October 2017 to discuss how to address mental health policies in their respective countries.
According to the World Health Organization, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, meaning that up to 575 million people across the Commonwealth may be affected. The WPA is willing to support countries in developing or revising their policies. Let us collaborate to bring about change in this modern day and age by engaging national policy and law-makers who can action our words.