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Calling Attention to Mental Health as a 'Neglected Issue'

Patient at a mental health institution in Georgia's separatist region of Abkhazia last December
Patient at a mental health institution in Georgia's separatist region of Abkhazia last December

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This is the VOA Special English DEVELOPMENT REPORT.

Sunday, October tenth, is World Mental Health Day. This year's observance centers on the relationship between mental health and chronic physical conditions like diabetes and cancer.

The World Health Organization says more than four hundred fifty million people suffer from poor mental health. The most common disorders are depression and schizophrenia. Mental health experts also include other disorders like drug and alcohol abuse that affect millions of people.

Elena Berger is with the World Federation for Mental Health. That organization, based in the United States, held the first World Mental Health Day in nineteen ninety-two.

Mrs. Berger says mental health problems are most severe in poor countries that lack the resources to deal with them.

ELENA BERGER: "It's an enormous issue. The World Health Organization is highlighting mental health as a neglected issue. In developing countries, a huge number of people, up to eighty-five percent, don't have access to any form of mental health treatment. There are huge staffing needs. There are no services. And there's a lot of stigma in a lot of societies about being mentally ill."

Experts say about half of all mental health problems first appear before the age of fifteen.The countries with the highest percentages of young people are in the developing world. That means they are also the countries with the poorest levels of mental health resources.

The WHO says many low- and middle-income countries have only one child psychiatrist for every one to four million people.

Worldwide, depression is the leading mental health problem, and a leading cause of disability. In two thousand two, the World Health Organization estimated that more than one hundred fifty-four million people suffered from depression.

But Elena Berger from the mental health federation says other kinds of diseases often get more attention.

ELENA BERGER: "People are more focused on communicable diseases and not paying enough attention to the amount of disability there is from mental health conditions. And these are real disabilities where people are not able to work to their full capacity, can't earn an income. And there's a big impact on families as well."

Mrs. Berger says her organization and the WHO are pushing to have governments include mental health care in their development goals. She says this could greatly improve the availability of treatment and services worldwide.

ELENA BERGER: "People with mental and psychosocial disabilities would be recognized as vulnerable groups that need special support, and who need to be included in society, and not excluded and ignored as is often the case at the present time."

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by June Simms. I'm Mario Ritter.