PAHO laments low budgets for high mental health challenges in AmericasFriday, October 15, 2021
“The countries that have the highest burden of mental health conditions are usually the ones that are in fact investing the least in mental health.”
This was the message brought to a Jamaican audience on Monday, by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) chief of Mental Health and Substance Use, Dr Renato Oliveira e Souza.
Speaking at a World Mental Health Day forum hosted by the University of Technology, (UTech) Jamaica, Dr Oliveira said that prior to the pandemic the Americas had a high burden of mental health conditions.
A third of years lived with disability (YLD) among people of this hemisphere was accounted for by mental, neurological and substance use disorders and suicide.
The prevalence of common mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, in this hemisphere is one of the highest in the world. Yet, financial investment in mental health in the region is, on average, only around two per cent of health budget.
The forum was hosted virtually by the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, in the Faculty of Education and Liberal Studies, in partnership with the Child and Adolescent Development Programme at UTech.
The panel of speakers included Dr Ganesh Shetty, psychiatrist; Dr Kai Morgan, president of the Jamaica Psychological Society; Diahann Gordon Harrison, children's advocate; and Jhanille Brooks, director, Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy Network.
While not presenting figures relating specifically to Jamaica, Dr Oliveira said that the majority of funds allocated for mental health goes to psychiatric hospitals, which he described as not the best intervention to address mental health for most of the population. Dr Oliveira said this was exacerbated by the low numbers of mental health workers and specialists across the region.
Adding that availability of care is insufficient to the needs within the region, he said that the novel coronavirus pandemic had created further challenges for mental health in the region.
Data collected across the region show a higher level of depression and anxiety in the general population. Dr Oliveira advised that a World Health Forum survey across various countries showed a change in emotional and mental health one year after the pandemic.
He noted that some population groups had shown particular vulnerability. These groups are migrants, ethnic minorities, persons with pre-existing mental health conditions and young people.
Front-line workers, specifically those in health care, are also exceptionally vulnerable as they face the many risks that the pandemic has brought.
A PAHO/World Health Organization survey, completed two ago months in 35 countries in the Americas, examined the levels of disruption of different essential health services during the novel coronavirus pandemic, and found that in 60 per cent of countries mental health services were dislocated. The reasons included closure of mental health services in some instances and redeployment of professionals to serve in other areas of the pandemic.
Dr Oliveira said that the pandemic was not the only stressors affecting mental health in the Americas. He pointed to the relatively high homicide rates compared to other regions, high levels of interpersonal violence and the comparatively higher incidence of violence against women and children.
He indicated that PAHO and several regional countries have adopted the recommendations from the Executive Board of the World Health Organisation at its 148th session.
Key among these is that mental health must be approached from a “whole of society” perspective. Every branch of government should incorporate a mental health agenda in promoting mental health and advancing mental health care.
“We need to take this opportunity to strengthen mental health care at the country level, to build up better mental health systems, and to look into the future and as we embark on universal health coverage, that mental health is an essential element of universal health coverage for everyone.”