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Mental health ignored by aid work

People suffering from poor mental health are being bypassed by most development and poverty programmes, says a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO).

While mental and substance use disorders account for 13 per cent of the global burden of disease, up to 85 per cent of people with mental disabilities in low and middle-income countries do not have access to any form of quality treatment,"  said the WHO’s Dr Michelle Funk.

People with mental and psychosocial disabilities are some of the most marginalized groups in the world’s poorest countries, said the study, targeting people with mental health conditions as a vulnerable group.

While aid organisations have promised to focus on the most vulnerable people, many poverty-reducing and development programmes ignore and exclude this vulnerable group, said the document released last night at the United Nations in New York.

The link between poverty and poor mental health is well known. Mental and psychosocial disabilities are linked to rates of unemployment as highly as 90 per cent, it said. And few people in developing countries get educational and training opportunities to help them reach their full potential. Helping people with mental health problems also helps achieve aid targets, the report stresses.

"A greater attention from the development community is needed to reverse this situation", said the WHO’s Dr Ala Alwan. "The lack of visibility, voice and power of people with mental and psychosocial disabilities means that an extra effort needs to be made to reach out to and involve them more directly in development programmes."

Globally, about one in four people will experience a mental health condition in their life, according to WHO figures.

And every year, almost one million people commit suicide, 86 per cent of them live in low- and middle-income countries.

The WHO is working with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) to get mental health onto the development agenda.

"We need to break down the barriers that continue to exclude persons with mental or psychosocial disabilities" said UNDESA’s Mr Sha Zukang. "In order for them to have access to better opportunities and to benefit from the fruits of development, they must also be involved in the design of policies and programmes related to development."

The report lists mental health priorities in developing countries as depression, psychoses, suicide, epilepsy, dementia, conditions brought on by alcohol and drugs and mental health conditions in children.

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