Mental health investment crucial

WHO says that 300 million people worldwide are suffer depression. Picture: Supplied

There is an urgent need for increased investment in the fight against depression.

That is the message from experts who say lack of funding for mental health globally is hampering efforts to ensure those who suffer from mental illnesses have access to treatment.

This is in the lead up to World Health Day this week where depression will come under the spotlight.

According to the World Health Organisation, depression is the leading cause of illness and death worldwide. The health body estimates that more than 300 million people are living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015.

Stigma and a lack of support for those who suffer from mental illnesses have been identified as reasons that prevent people from seeking treatment. In a bid to spread awareness about depression, the World Health Organisation launched its Depression: Let’s Talk campaign aimed at creating dialogue about the condition.

According to WHO figures, nearly 50% of people with mental health conditions do not get treatment while on average, 3% of government health budgets is allocated to mental health, with less than 1% in low income countries to 5% in high income countries allocated to mental health.

WHO has warned that failure to act on mental health is costly to households, employers and governments. A WHO-led study has found that low levels of recognition and access to care for depression and anxiety results in a loss of $1 trillion every year. The study calculated potential treatment costs and health outcomes in 36 low and middle income countries from 2016 to 2030.

“A better understanding of depression and how it can be treated, while essential, is just the beginning. What needs to follow is a sustained scale-up of mental health services accessible to everyone, even the most remote populations in the world,” Dr Shekhar Saxena director of the department of mental health and substance abuse at WHO, said.

A shortage of psychiatrists and psychologist, psychiatric facilities and little budget for mental health in South Africa has been under the spotlight since the unfolding of the Esidimeni tragedy in which more than 100 psychiatric patients died after they were moved to ill-equipped NGOs.

Less than 5% of the health budget is allocated to mental health in the country.

It is estimated that for every 100000 people there are 0.24 psychiatrists and 0.4 psychologists to treat them in South Africa.

“Ignorance about the importance of mental health and the widespread stigma against people living with mental illness gives a perception that people living with mental illness can’t be helped or don’t deserve to be helped.

“We have weak information systems for monitoring mental health care and for understanding the prevalence and the burden of mental health problems in the country as a whole,” Prof Crick Lund, director of the Alan J Flisher Centre for public mental health research at the University of Cape Town, said.