According to the WHO (World Health Organisation), mental, neurological, and substance-use (MNS) disorders constitute 13% of the global burden of disease, surpassing cardiovascular diseases and even cancer. By the year 2020, it is estimated that 1.5 million people will commit suicide, and many times more that number will make the attempt — an alarming statistic, worldwide.
Abdallah S Daar, senior scientist at the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health, University Health Network (UHN) and University of Toronto, who was at the helm of a worldwide study to identify the top global challenges in mental health, says, “Mental illnesses are a problem for the whole of humanity — globally, they contribute a huge burden, and they are poorly dealt-with in almost all countries. This is why we needed the study to be able to develop a global list of challenges and priorities.”
> INTERNATIONAL TIE-UP
The worldwide study was undertaken to identify priorities for research in the next 10 years that will make an impact on the lives of people living with MNS disorders. It included experts from 60 countries in all major fields of mental health and from varied groups like basic research scientists, clinical research scientists, healthcare providers, advocates, policymakers, etc. It brought together more than 400 such stakeholders, making it the largest study ever undertaken.
> STUDY OUTCOME
The study came out with a list of 25 top challenges in tackling the issues, worldwide, a few of which include: the need to reduce cost and improve supply of effective medications; develop methods to eliminate the stigma, discrimination, and social exclusion of patients and families across cultural settings; improve children’s access to evidence-based care by trained healthcare providers in low and middle-income countries; the need to strengthen the mental health component in the training of all healthcare personnel.
Children emerged as requiring particular attention for prevention and care. Most mental disorders involve developmental processes, so reducing the duration of illnesses that go untreated could revolutionise treatment.
> PLUGGING GAPS
The absence of cures and the dearth of preventive measures reflect a limited understanding of the brain and its molecular and cellular mechanisms. Daar opines that there are multiple areas that need research on a pilot scale.
“We don’t know much about how the brain works and what goes wrong with it. Hence, we need to identify how best to empower trained practitioners and even family members to be able to provide evidencebased care. We also need to identify and study new therapeutic interventions, both drugs and non-drug based. In other words, there is much more research that needs to be done,” says Daar.
The consensus is that the progress in addressing the challenges in global mental health will lead to significant economic and quality-of-life benefits — including reductions in inappropriate use of healthcare and increased productivity for years to come — outcomes that would far outweigh the investment costs.