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World Health Organisation launches mental and neurological health campaign

22 Jan 2001

In a bid to focus attention on the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health, the World Health Organization (WHO) is launching a year-long campaign on mental health. WHO is daring governments, health professionals and people from all walks of life to rise to the challenge posed by mental and brain disorders.

"Stop Exclusion – Dare to Care" says WHO in a message that succinctly sums up the year-long campaign that will culminate in a World Health Report on mental health scheduled for release later this year.

An estimated 400 million people today suffer from mental or neurological disorders or from psychosocial problems such as those related to alcohol or drug abuse. One out of four people who turn to the health service for medical care suffer from such disorders. Yet, few are diagnosed correctly, and fewer receive treatment. Most of their lives are characterized by undue suffering, disability and, at times, premature death.

"By accident or design, we are all responsible for this situation today," said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO. "Governments have been remiss in that they have not provided adequate means of treatment to their people. And people have continued to discriminate against those that suffer from these disorders," she added.

Public health authorities say stigma and discrimination are the biggest obstacles facing mentally ill people today. Rare is the family that is free from an encounter with mental disorders, yet almost universal are the shame and fear that prevent people from seeking care. The gross human rights violations in mental hospitals, insufficient provision of community based mental health services, unfair insurance schemes and discriminatory hiring practices are only some of the trials faced by people with mental health problems. Individuals and institutions bear responsibility for perpetuating these practices.

WHO says mental and brain disorders such as depression or epilepsy can be treated successfully, allowing people to function well in society. Important scientific advances have been made in reducing suffering and the accompanying disability. Successful methods of involving the family and community to help in recovery have been identified.

World Health Day 2001, with the slogan "Stop exclusion – Dare to care," aims not only to raise awareness about barriers to mental health but also about solutions that exist to tackle mental and brain disorders.

The issue will be put before the annual gathering of WHO’s 191 Member States during the World Health Assembly (WHA) in May 2001. Four ministerial round tables will discuss poverty, discrimination, gender and human rights aspects of mental health. The winners of WHO’s global school contest on mental health will also be invited to read their winning essays before the WHA.

World Health Report 2001 will cover topics such as the prevalence of mental health disorders, the organization and financing of mental health programmes, the treatment gap, prevention strategies and projected trends for the future.

"We must strive for parity in the way mental and physical disorders are regarded. We know what is wrong, we know where solutions lie. We have a responsibility to push for changes in both policy and attitude and we are determined to do just that,’’ said Dr Benedetto Saraceno, Director of WHO’s Mental Health programme. "‘Stop Exclusion – Dare to care’ will not be a theme that is highlighted in 2001 and then forgotten," he added.