Global Mental Health Gains Momentum, Gives Hope
By Dr. Eve Byrd, Carter Center Mental Health Program Director
Access to mental health care is a basic human right.
As we enter a new decade, we are heartened to see global mental health disorders gain the attention and resources needed to be on par with the human and economic toll they cause around the world.
One in four people will experience a mental illness at some point, and the World Health Organization (WHO) names depression as a leading cause of disability. Mental health and substance use disorders are associated with significant premature deaths. Recent WHO data cites mental illness as responsible for 30% of nonfatal diseases worldwide. Yet, many countries are not prepared for this neglected and misunderstood challenge.
The tide is beginning to turn. In the last couple of years, there has been an unprecedented interest in global mental health. Health ministers from all 194 countries committed their nations to specific objectives and targets in the WHO Mental Health Action plan. Business leaders are becoming more aware of the economic losses caused by mental health problems in the workforce. Mental health is higher on the agenda at key United Nations meetings and the annual World Economic Forum.
Globally, leaders are realizing the benefits of placing a higher priority on well-being. Many countries are also starting to integrate mental health into their national health plans, but we have a long way to go for nations to fund behavioral health on par with other equally debilitating illnesses.
Liberia is an example of a country constructing a mental health infrastructure. In 2010, building upon nearly two decades of fostering peace and democracy in Liberia, The Carter Center Mental Health Program launched in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MOH) an initiative to help create a sustainable mental health system in Liberia. At that time, the country had just one psychiatrist, no national plan to address the mental health needs of a population recovering from civil war, and no laws to protect the rights of persons with mental illnesses.
Photos of recent class of clinicians who began specialized training in mental health. This training is the result of a partnership between The Carter Center and the Liberia Ministry of Health.
The Carter Center, the MOH, and its partners began training clinicians in mental health. Now there are over 250 mental health clinicians trained, with more than 100 specialized in the needs of children and adolescents. Their services are integrated into the primary care health care network across the country. Clinicians focused on children and youth provide mental health and psychosocial care in schools, clinics, and other child- and youth-centered settings. Liberia has a behavioral health services plan and has passed the country’s first mental health legislation protecting the rights of persons with mental illness.
Additionally, the Center works with about 20 Liberian journalists to help educate them on mental health and debunk some of the myths still surrounding mental illnesses. The silence around mental health helps perpetuate stigma and misconceptions.
Last year, Rosalynn Carter and the Rev. Bill Jallah, a mental health advocate in Liberia, wrote an op-ed titled “We are at the beginning of a global mental health revolution.” Jallah, who lives with a mental illness, heads up a Liberian advocacy group for people living with mental health conditions called Cultivation for Users’ Hope. This group, supported by The Carter Center, is instrumental to destigmatizing mental illness and working to help change policy as Liberia implements its first mental health law.
Jallah attended a Global Ministerial Health Summit in Amsterdam in October 2018. At this conference packed with leaders, he shared his story to shine the light on his condition and give others hope for recovery.
The time has come for millions of people affected by mental illnesses to have their voices heard and for policymakers to ensure that persons with mental illness receive quality care and support so they too can have the hope of living a happy and healthy life. There is no health without mental health.
Don’t miss Conversations at The Carter Center: Atlanta’s Role in the Global Mental Health Revolution, January 14, 7-8:15 p.m., a public discussion featuring global mental health leaders from The Carter Center, The Center for Victims of Torture, United for Global Mental Health, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. For free tickets, register here. ATTEND OR WATCH LIVE WEBCAST.
Georgia’s Center for Victims of Torture is a member of the Georgia Global Health Alliance.