HEALTH/DISABILITY: Mental health neglected worldwide

[4 September 2007] - New research published in the medical journal, The Lancet, has highlighted the extent to which the mentally ill are neglected in the developing world.

Scientists say mental illness makes up about 14 per cent of global disease, more than cancer or heart disease.

Up to 800,000 people commit suicide each year, mostly in poorer countries.

Their dependents may suffer too. There is evidence from India and Pakistan, for example, that mothers who are depressed are more likely to have a malnourished child.

Despite this, the authors say, 90 per cent of sufferers in developing countries receive no care. In some cases they are chained to trees or kept in cages.

Health officials called for new strategies and more money for treatment of the mentally ill in the developing world in a special series published by The Lancet.

They warned that as more people suffer from mental problems as a result of war, poverty and disease, unless widespread treatment becomes available, poor countries will be further handicapped in the future.

No treatment

Nirmala Srinivasan, head of Action For Mental Illness, a lobby group based in Bangalore, India, told the Associated Press news agency that only 7 per cent -  per cent of an estimated 40 million to 50 million people in India who are victims of some form of mental illness - schizophrenia, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety - get proper treatment.

In developing countries few can afford psychiatric treatment

Mentally ill adults in the major Brazilian cities are frequently seen begging on street corners and sleeping under highway overpasses.

In poor rural communities, families living in poverty cope the best they can with mentally ill relatives, but are often unable to afford medication or specialised care.


In some countries, mental illness is seen as a stigma.

In Zambia, where it is believed to be a sign of witchcraft or being possessed by the devil, people who are sick are reluctant to seek help.

Mental illness is indeed life-threatening. About 800,000 a year commit suicide.

More than four out of five are in low or middle income countries.

Lack of resources

But the report is also keen to stress the impact of mental health on other health conditions.

Poor mental health makes people more prone to other health problems - and then they are also less likely to get the medical help, social support and treatment they need.  

Many poorer countries are often presented with a stark choice when it comes to the treatment of mental patients given the scarcity of resources.

But many of the experts say basic mental health services can be provided cheaply and simply, especially if they are made part of general healthcare.

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