Improving coverage of mental health services

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(Zhen Hu, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Juan Pablo Robles Carrasquilla, a 19 year old and second year medical student at
Universidad de Cartagena, Colombia. He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


Mental, neurological and substance use disorders (MNS) are one of the most prevalent group of diseases affecting us right now, and one of the most significant public health challenges we face today. Is estimated that around one billion people worldwide had an MNS disorder in 2016, or 1-in-7 people in the world [1]. These disorders also cause a considerable amount of burden for the people affected by them and their societies, with roughly 14% of global burden of disease attributed to MNS disorders [2].

The data here is considered an underestimation of the actual situation due to several factors, however, is clear the impact these disorders have in our society, so it would be logical to have wide access to any mental health service to help individuals afflicted by any MNS disorder, right? Unfortunately, the reality is different and quite dire to be fair, with an existing gap between the need to reduce the burden of these disorders and the resources available to do so. Several people with an MNS disorders do not receive the treatment and care needed to overcome their problems and get well.

Why there is such a low access to service focused on mental health prevention and treatment and how can we change that? One of the reasons people don’t access to any service is ignorance. MNS disorders are mostly silent diseases, with almost no physical symptoms, so there is a misconception that these diseases are not real, “just a phase” or that people with any mental disorder doesn’t want to seek help, ignoring the realities and pain of anyone suffering from one of them. Ignorance can also lead to stigma, marking not only the illness per se, but also those who are ill, their families, and any institution trying to provide treatment. Stigma discriminates in every aspect of life, resulting in a decrease of self-esteem and self-confidence of the person experiencing the MNS disorder, reluctance to seek help, low treatment effect and high probability of relapse, and reluctance from our communities to invest in strategies to help and care for these individuals. It creates a vicious circle that undermines any progress in developing ways to implement mental health services [3].

Eliminating ignorance and stigma is a must if we want to increase access and coverage of mental health services, and is possible through education. Going to the communities and provide information about the reality of mental health and MNS disorders is an approach capable of leaving a positive attitude in the public, so they can have a better understanding and make more informed decisions about these illness, eliminate any stereotype and stigma against those individuals affected by them, and thus, stopping discrimination [4]. Normalising and opening up about mental health improve the self-esteem and confidence of afflicted people and encourages them to seek help and integrate with their communities without fear of being rejected.

Is possible to clear the gap regarding mental health, but to do so, is necessary to have a society willing to take the leap. As a social species, mental health should be seen as an important part of well-being of everyone, and teaching about it is the first step if we want to tackle the problematic of low access to these services and venture to a humanity capable to recognise the value of their mental well-being in their lives.

References

  1. Rehm J, Shield K. Global Burden of Disease and the Impact of Mental and Addictive Disorders. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2019; 21(10).
  2. WHO. mhGAP: Mental Health Gap Action Programme: scaling up care for mental, neurological and substance use disorders. Geneva: WHO; 2008.
  3. Sartorius, N. Sartorius, N. (2007). Stigma and mental health. The Lancet. 2007; 370(9590): 810–811.
  4. Corrigan P, Watson A. Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. World Psychiatry. 2002 Feb; 1(1): 16–20.

About the author

Juan Pablo Robles Carrasquilla, is a 19 year old and second year medical student at
Universidad de Cartagena, Colombia. He is currently a member of ACAMC and
ASCEMCOL.

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