The World Health Organisation, on the occasion of the World Mental Health Day on Monday, called upon member states in the South-East Asia region to intensify action to achieve access for all to quality mental health care.
The action will be in line with the recently adopted Paro Declaration on universal access to people-centred mental health care and services, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, said.
Globally, before the Covid-19 pandemic, around one in eight people lived with a mental health condition.
Gaps in treatment were unacceptably large, especially in low- and middle-income countries, Singh said.
In the South-East Asia Region, an estimated one in seven people lived with a mental health condition, and in countries where data is available, the treatment gap ranged from 70–95 per cent.
The Covid-19 crisis has impacted almost all areas of health, but few as profoundly as mental health, the regional director said in a statement.
"In 2020, cases of major depressive disorder are estimated to have increased by more than 27 per cent globally, and cases of anxiety disorders by more than 25 per cent, adding to the one billion people who were already living with a mental disorder," Singh said.
In many countries, this occurred alongside widespread disruptions to mental health services.
Between November and December 2021, more than 33 per cent of WHO member states globally reported ongoing disruptions to mental, neurological and substance use services, Singh said in the statement.
To close gaps and to accelerate pre-pandemic progress, in September 2022, at the 75th session of the WHO Regional Committee for South-East Asia, countries of the region committed to take a bold and decisive action, unanimously adopting the Paro Declaration on universal access to people-centred mental health care and services.
The Paro Declaration aims to ensure that all people in the region can access quality mental health care, close to where they live, without financial hardship. It places specific emphasis on the need to reorient and integrate mental health services into primary health care (PHC).
The declaration recognizes that mental health is a key determinant of social and economic development, an integral part of general health and well-being, and that access to care is a basic human right.
In the months and years ahead, the South-East region has several priorities, Singh said, adding that first is reorienting mental health services to strengthen PHC capacity, with a focus on expanding the specialized and non-specialized mental health workforce.
Second is establishing evidence-based and rights-oriented community mental health networks, and increasing collaboration with civil society and affected populations, while the third is strengthening national and subnational programmes to address suicide and self-harm, as well as drug and alcohol use, she said.
And fourth is combatting mental health-related stigma and discrimination, and protecting and promoting human rights, the WHO regional director said.
"Inaction is not an option. Increased investments and/or allocations towards mental health will therefore not only reduce overall treatment costs, but also increase productivity and employment," Singh said.
(With PTI inputs)