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Investment Needed to Fix Global Mental Health Crisis

October 10, 2016

By Natasha Abraham - BasicNeeds

A major traumatic experience changed Muhammad’s life and he grew increasingly bitter, angry, and paranoid. Things escalated to the point where his family life began to suffer. Muhammad had been working for BasicNeeds’ partner in Pakistan, where he saw firsthand how we improve the lives of people living with mental illness. This helped him summon the courage to get help.

Muhammad was diagnosed with severe depression and paranoia and began treatment immediately. Soon he started feeling better, and is now much happier with life. He feels extremely grateful for the help he has received, which literally turned his life around; he shudders when he recalls that he was on the verge of abandoning his wife and children. He continues to attend follow-up appointments to support his recovery.

Muhammad was fortunate to receive treatment and support within his community, an opportunity that few people are lucky enough to have. Mental disorders affect up to 450 million people worldwide, and depression alone is one of the leading causes of disability. Stigma, inadequate funding, and poor healthcare systems prevent people from accessing much-needed treatment.

This in turn has serious economic consequences, costing the global economy some US$2.5 trillion per year, an amount that is expected to increase to US$6 trillion by 2030. Yet funding for critical interventions remains scarce. Mental health is allocated less than two percent of health spending in most low- and middle-income countries.

Without action now, the social and economic impact of mental illness in the coming years will be huge.

There is hope. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in September 2015 finally include mental health as a target. This marks a significant turning point, placing mental health on the global agenda and ensuring commitment from governments.

In April this year, the World Bank and World Health Organization co-hosted a high-level meeting on mental health for the first time ever, focusing on bringing mental disorders from the periphery to the center of the global development agenda. As the largest international NGO working in mental health and development, BasicNeeds was pleased to contribute significantly to both these processes.

The SDGs provide an important opportunity for wider recognition of the importance of mental health. At BasicNeeds we believe that prioritizing mental health is crucial not only for progress on all health indicators but also for social and economic development.

For 16 years BasicNeeds has been helping poor people living with mental illness to access much-needed treatment and support within their communities. Our approach is designed to address medical, social, and economic needs, taking into account the local context and involving in-country partners. In particular, we focus on vulnerable populations such as women, youth, and children.

“Even if the BasicNeeds project comes to an end in my area tomorrow, I can still get my medication. I can buy it with my own money; BasicNeeds has shown me how to earn money through making baskets and beads.” – Participant in Kenya.

“I had no idea about children’s mental health and well-being until I participated in the program implemented by BasicNeeds and its partner in my village… My son regularly participates in the training sessions that the team organizes and I have seen what a difference it has made. I encourage all parents in my community to send their children to the Children’s Club.” – Teacher and parent in Sri Lanka.

Our latest venture is in maternal and child health. As mental health is often absent in maternal health programs, BasicNeeds launched a new maternal mental health project in Ghana in October 2015. This project aims to improve maternal health and livelihoods for 15,000 poor or vulnerable women and girls.

A recent study on the economic case for depression and anxiety informed by BasicNeeds’ data found that for every dollar invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety—primarily through psychosocial counseling and antidepressant medication provided in non-specialized healthcare settings—we see a return of four dollars worth of value in the form of better health and increased ability to work.

With growing recognition of the importance of mental health, the time is now to bring it out of the shadows. We urge policy makers and global funders to take mental health seriously. Through increased awareness, inclusion on development agendas, and investment for scale-up of the work that is already underway, we can make a difference in many more lives.

To find out more about BasicNeeds’ work, visit our website and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Want to know more about global mental health? Check out these resources:

Banner photo: BasicNeeds Ghana

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