A group of international health experts – including Dr. Giuseppe Raviola, Partners In Health’s Director of Mental Health – has called for a special session of the United Nations to focus global attention on mental, neurological and substance use disorders. The proposed meeting would allow experts and policymakers to find ways to improve access to care, promote human rights and strengthen prevention and treatment services for people living with mental health issues, especially in developing countries.

Writing in the January 2012 issue of PLoS Medicine, the health experts say: “The time has come for recognition at the highest levels of global development, namely the UN General Assembly, of the urgent need for a global strategy to address the global burden of MNS disorders.” 

Mental, neurological and substance use disorders (MNS disorders) are leading contributors to the global burden of disease and profoundly impact the social and economic well-being of individuals and communities around the world. Yet the majority of people affected by MNS disorders lack access to treatment, even worse many experience discrimination and abuses because of their illness.

The authors outline three broad areas of action needed globally:

  1. Enhancing access to treatment of MNS disorders
  2. Ensuring that people living with mental health disabilities have full access to their basic rights and live a life with dignity
  3. Expanding knowledge about MNS disorders

“Securing the commitment of a majority of governments for a UNGASS will require a concerted effort from the diverse group of stakeholders concerned with MNS disorders,” say the authors. They advocate for a ‘‘People’s Charter for Mental Health’’ which would be “developed in consultation with the organizations from 96 countries who have signed up to the ‘Great Push’ initiative so far, representing over one million people including consumers, family members, advocates, researchers, professional organizations, and policy makers.”

Beyond advocating for changes in mental health policy and funding, for more than 10 years PIH has run exactly these types of programs in many of its health centers, specifically in Haiti, Peru and Rwanda – countries affected by various natural, pathological and man-made disasters. Addressing the mental health needs of those people who’ve experienced traumatic events is a crucial component of recovery.

PIH reaffirmed this belief by quickly ramping up psychosocial and mental health programs in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Since that event, PIH’s mental health and psychosocial services team has provided direct services to more than 25,000 adults and children in Port-au-Prince and throughout central Haiti.

Read “A United Nations General Assembly Special Session for Mental, Neurological, and Substance Use Disorders: The Time Has Come”