WHO Promotes Mental Health Throughout the World


WHO: World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “the state of complete mental, physical and social well being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” It defines mental health as “a state of well being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

Part of WHO’s mission in the area of mental health is to promote mental health and to reduce the burden of mental disorders throughout the world. In order to meet its responsibility to promote mental health throughout the world, WHO developed Project Atlas in 2000. The purpose of the project was to develop an atlas of data and information about mental health resources throughout the world. The first atlas was published in October 2001 and updated in 2005. The atlas has been updated again, and is known as the Mental Health Atlas 2011. It contains data about 95% of the world’s population from 184 WHO Member States.

WHO has identified that there is a significant gap between the burden caused by mental disorders and the resources available to prevent and treat them. WHO estimates that 80% of people with serious mental disorders living in low and middle income countries do not receive the mental health services they need.

In most countries, less than 2% of health funds are spent on mental health, while mental health treatment is relatively inexpensive; not requiring expensive medical equipment and procedures. Spending on mental health is less than 2 US dollars per person per year, and less than 25 cents in low income countries. In most countries, there is one psychiatrist available to treat 200,000 people or more.

Higher income countries are more likely to have outpatient treatments available for mental health conditions. In lower income countries, most treatment is provided in inpatient psychiatric hospitals. Hospital stays are often a year or longer, and quality of care is often very poor. Many inpatient facilities do not offer outpatient follow up services or provide psychosocial interventions that can reduce severity and recurrence of symptoms, and help patients function within their communities. Approximately 80% of the mental health budget in developing countries is spent on 7% of patients. The majority of people with mental disorders can be successfully treated in the community on an outpatient basis.

WHO recommends an increase in funding for mental health conditions and a re-allocation of funds away from inpatient care toward outpatient community care. About 80% of people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders living in developing countries do not receive any treatment or care. This includes 95 million people with depression and more than 25 million people with epilepsy. These conditions are very easily and affordably treated and can improve quality of life significantly when treated. They can have devastating effects when not treated, and cause unnecessary suffering to individuals and their families. 1 in 4 people will be affected by a mental disorder at some point in their lives.

Worldwide, WHO estimates that 151 million people suffer from depression, 26 million from schizophrenia; 125 million from alcohol use disorders, 40 million from epilepsy, and 24 million from Alzheimer and other dementias. Approximately 844 thousand people die by suicide each year.

People with mental health conditions are vulnerable. They are often neglected and are often victims of violence and crime. In many communities they are judged as having weak character and punished for immoral behavior. They are often feared and shunned. Sometimes they are thought of as demon possessed and subjected to harmful religious rituals. Their human rights are often violated. They are most often forgotten and overlooked, and do not receive protections afforded to other vulnerable groups.

A number of social, psychological and biological factors contribute to our mental health. Poverty and lack of education are mental health risk factors. Poor mental health is also associated with social change, stressful work conditions, gender discrimination, social exclusion, unhealthy lifestyles, violence, physical health problems and human rights violations. Some psychological and personality features contribute to mental health risk, as do biological factors such as genetics, hormones and brain chemistry.

Promoting positive mental health involves creating positive living conditions and environments that allow people to develop and maintain healthy lifestyles. An environment that respects and protects basic human rights has the highest chance of promoting high levels of positive mental health and well being. The security and increased freedom provided in these environments promotes positive mental health.


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Comments 12 comments

diogenes profile image

diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

HiKim: We are lucky to have WHO. However, unless a victim of mental disease is dangerous to himself or others, or is unable to function at some level in society, he/she slips through the net. I am of the notion many of our neurological woes are caused by alcohol and other drugs, smoking and a poor diet. WE are greatly masters of our own desiny, physically and mentally. If this is the case, organizations like WHO can only chip away at the edges of the problem: if people won't help themselves, no institution has the power to change things...Bob Very good and factual article and voted as such...

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago Author

Hi Bob. I started to say something about how much government is responsible for caring for its vulnerable citizens and about personal responsibility, but I deleted it to let the facts stand alone. While we are responsible for ensuring that our living situation is healthy and safe, there are biological, social and economic variables that can make that more or less challenging for each of us. We are personally responsible to seek treatment for any health condition(s) and to put forth effort into a program of recovery. There are barriers here as well. When a person chooses to engage in unhealthy behaviors, remain in unsafe situations, or fail to seek help for a problem it becomes a burden for the rest of us who pay to fix the problems - and takes resources away from other people with needs. Thanks for reading and commenting diogenes...and voting as such:)

Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 5 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

Smaller Communities In The U.S. Have A One System Fits All Usually Treating With Medication Without Any Verbal Treatment And As You Say Mostly Inpatient Or a Doctor Simply Prescribes Medication.

Happyboomernurse profile image

Happyboomernurse 5 years ago from South Carolina

Thought provoking and well documented hub. The work WHO does in compiling the statistics and facts is important and their goals are admirable but I also agree with what Bob said about people who suffer from mental health disorders needing to be receptive to treatment and that they need to assume responsibility for seeking treatment and for making lifestyle changes.

I also agree with what you said in your comment back to him- that the local communities and government need to address the barriers to getting treatment. We all benefit when those with mental health disorders get the treatment and support that they need so that they can be productive members of our society.

Voted up, useful and interesting.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago Author

@Mentalist acer - The US system is much better than developing countries and more care is done outpatient, but I agree outpatient care should be much more available. It is very difficult to get care in small communities, and privacy is compromised often in small communities. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mentalist acer.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago Author

Hi Gail. Thanks for the comments. The vision of the WHO was that making MH care more accessible and in the primary care setting, the stigma would be lost. They seemed to want to move MH care from "specialists" to primary care physicians and nurses in order to make care accessible and to reduce stigma and include mental health in medical health care. There was some confusion about differences in nursing and psych nursing credentials and prescribing privileges around the world, that complicated the plan. It makes sense though - as a way to make it easier for a person to take responsibility. I agree too that there is some shared responsibility here. Changing such a complex system as health care is quite a task!

family2010 profile image

family2010 5 years ago

yes, many head for the medication treatment before looking for the verbal solutions, great hub

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago Author

thanks for reading and commenting family2010. best practice guidelines usually include a combination of medication and talk therapy. with some conditions, talk therapy would not be effective without medication. That being said, we do often look for the "quick fix" and the "fast and easy" solutions rather than putting real effort into a program of recovery. Thanks for your thoughts:)

megni profile image

megni 4 years ago

A great article. Each time positive information is released about how mental illness is to be recognized as another disease and not some thing to be denied, the world becomes a spark or two brighter. Thanks

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 4 years ago Author

Love it! Thank you megni for your enthusiasm and passion, and for taking a moment to comment. ...and not something to be ashamed of either. We've made progress when we can say, "I'm feeling depressed" or anxious as easily as "I have a fever."

megni profile image

megni 4 years ago


Hubpages has a large number of hubs about mental illness and since this subject is not the most comfortable one to read, generally these are not among the top ranked articles. I'm trying to search them out and to encourage them to persevere. What the world does not want to hear is probably what it needs to hear.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 4 years ago Author

Hi again, megni. I see you have some interesting hubs on mental health and other topics here and elsewhere as well. I've had to cut back on my reading and writing here because of other commitments, but have every intention of resuming when able. I agree that what we least want to hear is often what we need to hear. Also what we do want to hear is often not what we need! Thanks again for posting your thoughts here:)

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