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WHO report: Globe falls short on mental health goals in ‘worldwide failure’

A World Health Organization (WHO) report released Friday morning says that the globe is falling short on its mental health investment goals, calling the lack of progress a “worldwide failure.”

The WHO’s Mental Health Atlas released Friday concluded that while mental health has received more attention in the past few years, data from 171 countries show the quality of services has not kept up with growing needs. 

“It is extremely concerning that, despite the evident and increasing need for mental health services, which has become even more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic, good intentions are not being met with investment,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. 

“We must heed and act on this wake-up call and dramatically accelerate the scale-up of investment in mental health, because there is no health without mental health,” he added.

Although WHO in 2019 extended its mental health action plan until 2030, countries didn’t reach several of the initial targets for last year.

The report, released every three years, found that 51 percent of WHO’s 194 members had a mental health policy or plan aligned with international regional human rights agreements last year, far below the 80 percent goal. 

Similarly, 52 percent of member nations met the goal for mental health promotion and prevention programs, also falling short of the 80 percent target.

The sole target met was that the suicide rate dropped by 10 percent, although just 35 countries had a “stand-alone prevention strategy, policy or plan.”

Worldwide, the median number of mental health workers per 100,000 people rose slightly from nine in 2014 to 13 last year. 

Still, only 2 percent of government health budgets commit funding for mental health, virtually unchanged in the past 2 years. 

The current targets, for nine years from now, include reaching 80 percent of countries that integrated mental health with primary care, that have a system for mental health preparedness for emergencies and that double their community-based mental health facilities.  

Dévora Kestel, director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use at WHO, said the report demonstrates that “we still have a very long way to go” in expanding mental health care access. 

“But I am encouraged by the renewed vigour that we saw from governments as the new targets for 2030 were discussed and agreed and am confident that together we can do what is necessary to move from baby steps to giant leaps forward in the next 10 years,” Kestel said.

WHO’s Mental Health Atlas was published ahead of World Mental Health Day on Sunday.

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