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WHO Takes Action for Millions with Untreated Mental Disorders

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released new simplified guidelines to make it easier for health care professionals to recognize and take care of the millions of people with common, but untreated, mental, neurological and substance use disorders.

The intervention guide is especially made for non-mental health specialists including doctors, nurses and other health providers.

The symptom-based guidelines include information about depression, alcohol use disorders, epilepsy and other common mental disorders and are presented as flow charts to simplify the process of providing care in the primary health care setting.

“In a key achievement, the intervention guide transforms a world of expertise and clinical experience, contributed by hundreds of experts, into less than 100 pages of clinical wisdom and succinct practical advice,” says Dr. Margaret Chan, Director of the World Health Organization.

WHO estimates that more than 75 percent of people suffering with mental, neurological and substance use disorders around the world don’t receive proper treatment or even minimal levels of care for those disorders. This includes almost 95 million people with depression and more than 25 million people with epilepsy.

However, if the primary health care system is able to diagnose them, it will greatly increase the number of people who can access care.

“Improvement in mental health services doesn’t require sophisticated and expensive technologies. What is required is increasing the capacity of the primary health care system for delivery of an integrated package of care,” says Dr. Ala Alwan, Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health at WHO.

It is estimated that one in four people around the world will suffer with a mental health problem in his or her lifetime. Those with mental, neurological and substance use disorders are often stigmatized and vulnerable to neglect and mistreatment.

Currently, the resources available are not enough, unevenly distributed and not properly utilized. In most countries, less than 2 percent of health funds are used for mental health. Because of this, a great majority of people with these disorders receive no care at all.

WHO, in association with partners, will offer technical support to countries to implement the guidelines.  It has already started the program in the following six countries: Ethiopia, Jordan, Nigeria, Panama, Sierra Leone and Solomon Islands.

“The programme will lead to nurses in Ethiopia recognizing people suffering with depression in their day to day work and providing psychosocial assistance. Similarly, doctors in Jordan and medical assistants in Nigeria will be able to treat children with epilepsy,” says Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.

“Both these conditions are commonly encountered in primary care, but neither identified nor treated due to lack of knowledge and skills of the health care providers.”

Various associates who have agreed to assist WHO in reaching out to improve mental health care and services in developing countries include Member States, UN agencies, research institutes, universities, multilateral agencies, foundations, WHO Collaborating Centers and NGOs under the mental health Gap Action Program (mhGAP) Forum.

Source:  World Health Organization

WHO Takes Action for Millions with Untreated Mental Disorders

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). WHO Takes Action for Millions with Untreated Mental Disorders. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 12 Oct 2010)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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