WHO News

WHO finds governments "remiss" on mental disorders

On 4 October, WHO launched its annual World Health Report, this year devoted to mental health. The report culminates a series of WHO-sponsored activities on the topic — including meetings of experts, the World Health Assembly, and World Health Day — in what has been the organization's first "thematic" year in its 55-year history.

Subtitled Mental health: New understanding, new hope, the report calls governments to task for not using the available "means and scientific knowledge to help people with mental disorders".

Speaking to the press at the launch of the report, WHO director-general Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland said it should help "break the vicious cycle of neglect and lack of funding and raise awareness of mental health issues at the highest level of decision- and policy-making". The data in the report, she said, presented a "staggering" toll: 450 million people currently afflicted with a mental or neurological disorder — 121 million of them with depression and 50 million with epilepsy — plus a million successful and 10–20 million attempted suicides a year.

Much of this suffering is unnecessary, Brundtland said. For example, more than half the people with depression in the world — in both industrialized and developing countries — could recover if treated, but because of stigma, scarcity of resources, lack of skilled care, and inadequate public health policies, only 25% of sufferers actually receive treatment.

Referring to the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US and their aftermath, she noted that "the background of widespread horror, insecurity and grief around the world" is likely to have "long-term mental effects" in some of the people directly exposed to the events. On the positive side, though, the crisis has "reaffirmed and strengthened the circle of caring between people and within communities".

The World Health Report 2001 can be accessed on the Web at <www.who.int/whr> or can be ordered from <bookorders@who.int> for 15 Swiss francs (10.50 Swiss francs for readers living in developing countries).

John Maurice, Bulletin

World Health Organization Genebra - Genebra - Switzerland
E-mail: bulletin@who.int