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Overview on Mental health, Burden and WHO response

In recent years, there has been increasing acknowledgement of the important role mental health plays in achieving global development goals, as illustrated by the inclusion of mental health in the Sustainable Development Goals.


Overview on Mental health, Burden and WHO response
Overview on Mental health, Burden and WHO response

Depression is one of the leading causes of disability. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. People with severe mental health conditions die prematurely – as much as two decades early – due to preventable physical conditions.



Despite progress in some countries, people with mental health conditions often experience severe human rights violations, discrimination, and stigma.


Many mental health conditions can be effectively treated at a relatively low cost, yet the gap between people needing care and those with access to care remains substantial. Effective treatment coverage remains extremely low.


Increased investment is required on all fronts: for mental health, awareness to increase understanding and reduce stigma; for efforts to increase access to quality mental health care and effective treatments; and for research to identify new treatments and improve existing treatments for all mental disorders. In 2019, WHO launched the WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health (2019-2023): Universal Health Coverage for Mental Health to ensure access to quality and affordable care for mental health conditions in 12 priority countries to 100 million more people.


Mental health conditions are increasing worldwide. Mainly because of demographic changes, there has been a 13% rise in mental health conditions and substance use disorders in the last decade (to 2017). Mental health conditions now cause 1 in 5 years lived with disability. Around 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have a mental health condition, with suicide the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. Approximately one in five people in post-conflict settings have a mental health condition.



Mental health conditions can have a substantial effect on all areas of life, such as school or work performance, relationships with family and friends and the ability to participate in the community. Two of the most common mental health conditions, depression and anxiety, cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year.


Despite these figures, the global median of government health expenditure that goes to mental health is less than 2%.


WHO works with the Member States and partners to improve the mental health of individuals and society at large. This includes the promotion of mental well-being, the prevention of mental disorders, and efforts to increase access to quality mental health care that respects people’s human rights. In 2019, WHO launched the WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health (2019-2023): Universal Health Coverage for Mental Health to ensure access to quality and affordable care for mental health conditions in 12 priority countries to 100 million more people.


WHO’s mental health activities cover normative activities and country support activities. WHO has helped extend mental health care in more than 110 countries and is active in the following areas: integration in general health care (through the Mental Health Gap Action Programme, mhGAP) and in disease or topic-specific programmes such as those for HIV, tuberculosis and gender-based violence; suicide prevention; workforce development for mental health; promotion of the quality of care and the rights of people receiving care (QualityRights); mental health policy and legislation; mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian emergencies; development and testing of innovative psychological interventions including digital interventions; mental health in the workplace; mental health economics; the mental health of children and adolescents; and mental health promotion.


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