The human toll of mental illness has started to be widely recognised for its impact on individuals and families. There is now much more awareness of, for example depression, due to stories in the media about famous people who are talking openly about their problems. Even the once taboo subject of suicide is now more openly acknowledged in society. When someone like the comedian Robin Williams dies by suicide, it has the effect of reminding us that at least 1,000,000 people die in this way every year around the world. In many countries suicide is one of the top three causes of death in young people, but is often ignored or even denied as an issue.
CBM, along with many other partners in global development have long pointed out that mental illness and psychosocial disability also has an important impact on communities and broader society. Mental illness does not only cause personal suffering, but often results in social exclusion and lack of opportunity for large sectors of the population to contribute to the economy and community development. Since 85% of the people with mental conditions live in the poorest countries in the world, the impact is particularly marked on these fragile economies.
By 2030, depression is expected to become the single largest contributor to disease burden globally, and even today, 350 million people around the world are affected by depression. The sheer scale of this issue, and the well documented impact on people’s ability to work and actively engage in the economic life of a country has led the World Bank to focus on mental illness at their annual Spring Meeting in Washington in April. At last year’s World Economic Forum, careful analysis in a report by a Harvard group resulted in an estimate that the annual global costs of mental illness to the economy was 2.5 trillion dollars in 2010, a staggering number that was expected to rise to 6 trillion dollars by 2030.
The joint meeting, called ‘Out of the shadows, making mental health a global priority’ will be run by the World Bank and WHO, from April 13th to 15th in Washington. It will be a forum to examine how the major financial actors in global development can address this issue. These key funders and politically powerful groups can hopefully start to play their role, joining development organisations like CBM, and other groups like service user organisations and activists, so make more resources available and raise prioritisation of mental health.
CBM will be well represented at the meeting. Carmen Valle will be sharing our experiences of working in Sierra Leone with partners to build resilience and reduce the psychological impact of the Ebola epidemic. This is a part of Disaster Risk Reduction that is often not sufficiently recognised. Information about this project with our partners in Sierra Leone is here. She will also be talking about how our partners ensured that access to important public health messages, for example during an epidemic like the 2014/15 Ebola outbreak, can be accessible to all people, including people with disabilities.
I will be speaking during a panel discussion on the topic of mental health and people with sensory impairments. The main points are that
- Mental ill health is much more common in people with sensory impairments, but is often not recognised.
- Mental health components should be integrated into services for people with sensory impairments, for example ensuring that service users themselves, and health and education personnel, are made sensitive to these needs and are aware of how to address them
- The barriers that people with sensory impairments face should be specifically addressed in messaging relating to mental health by paying attention to accessible formats (as in any other awareness and public health work).
Carmen and Julian will be Tweeting and Blogging from the meeting. Follow our our blog, Twitter and Facebook to get all the latest news about the WHO meetings in Washington DC (the hashtag for this event is #mentalhealthnow). You can also follow Dr. Julian Eaton and Dr. Carmen Valle on Twitter who will be tweeting live from the events.
Additional information on the Innovation Fair can be found here.