UN high level meeting on NCDs is excluding mental health
By Professor Flemming Konradsen, Director of Copenhagen School of Global Health
The UN high-level meeting on non-communicable disease prevention and control in September 2011 focuses on the four main diseases killing three out of five people globally including cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung diseases and diabetes. However, the conference does not give any significant attention to the remaining major non-communicable disease area namely mental health.
Marginalization of people with mental health problems
Mental health deserves a much more prominent focus in the international discussions of global health. It may not result in the same number of deaths as the other non-communicable diseases but often places the greatest burden on society.
Especially in low-income countries were most individuals suffering from mental, neurological and substance use disorders do not receive even the most basic care, thus placing a huge burden on individuals and families. This makes people suffering from mental health problems among the most marginalized in the world.
Suicide prevention is global health challenge
With proper care, millions of people could be treated for depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy and other illnesses. We also need to advocate for the prevention of suicide and make the public and politicians realize that this is a preventable cause of premature deaths. On 10 September it is again World Suicide Prevention Day, where WHO and the International Association for Suicide Prevention are promoting worldwide action and commitment to prevent suicides.
We can prevent most of the more than 800 000 annual deaths from suicides globally by addressing some of the underlying risk factors, restricting access to the most common means of suicides in the domestic environment such as pesticides and medicines, and providing adequate treatment and follow-up care for people who attempted suicide.
Even though mental health has not been included in the UN high-level meeting on NCD prevention and control, it is still important to remember that the people suffering from mental, neurological and substance use disorders just like the other big NCDs constitute a growing part of the global burden of disease and therefore should be taken seriously as one of the great global health challenges of our time.
Flemming Konradsen is professor within environmental health at The University of Copenhagen and director of the Copenhagen School of Global Health. In his research on pesticide use in Sri Lanka he is working on strategies to prevent suicide with pesticides.