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Millions suffering from mental illness need better care, says UN health agency

1 June 2007 ? The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today called on countries to provide a network of community health services to alleviate the hardships faced by the nearly 54 million people around the world suffering from mental disorders as well as those caring for them.

?Not only are community health services more accessible to people living with severe mental disabilities, these are also more effective in taking care of their needs compared to mental hospitals,? stated Benedetto Saraceno, WHO?s Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

?Community mental health services are also likely to have less possibilities for neglect and violations of human rights, which are too often encountered in mental hospitals,? he added.

The call for community mental health services came during WHO?s Global Forum for Community Mental Health, which concluded in Geneva yesterday and which, for the first time, included the participation of people living with mental disorders. In addition to the nearly 54 million people suffering severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder, WHO estimates that 154 million suffer from depression.

?This topic should matter to everyone, because far too many people with mental disorders do not receive any care,? said Catherine Le Gal?s-Camus, Assistant Director-General of WHO?s cluster on Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health.

According to WHO, mental disorders are increasingly prevalent in developing countries, the consequence of persistent poverty-driven conditions, the demographic transition, conflicts in fragile States and natural disasters. At the same time, more than 50 per cent of developing countries do not provide any care for persons with mental disorders in the community.

?The challenge is to enhance systems of care by taking effective local models and disseminating them throughout a country. [The Forum] was about showcasing models which are proving effective in delivering mental health care in resource-challenged situations,? added Dr. Le Gal?s-Camus.
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