The third Sustainable Development Goal seeks to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. In its establishing documents, the World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Yet despite these stated and specific objectives, the provision of mental health resources remains woefully inadequate. A large portion of people with mental health conditions do not receive any treatment, or else receive treatment which does not fully meet their needs. An estimated one in four people globally will experience some form of a mental health condition in their lifetime. Some mental disorders, including dementia and many developmental disorders, are both chronic and debilitating, and therefore constitute a form of disability.
Many healthcare systems are not adequately equipped to handle the needs of the populations they serve. One obstacle is having too few qualified psychiatrists and mental healthcare specialists. For this reason, it can be challenging to even get a diagnosis for a mental health condition. Similarly, healthcare workers who are not mental health specialists could benefit from training on the topic, but rarely receive such training. The method of providing resources also influences the efficacy of treatment. Research consistently shows that a person’s mental health both affects and is affected by their physical health. The model of mental health facilities separate from other health networks has, on average, lead to poor health outcomes. And yet, this model remains more common than community-based models, which integrate mental health services into traditional healthcare systems and pair them with other social services.
It is also worth noting that the provision of mental health resources varies widely by country and region, and this is often tied to income level. For example, the WHO’s 2014 Mental Health Atlas indicates that while high-income countries average over 50 mental healthcare workers per 100,000 people, low-income countries average less than one per 100,000. Similar trends show up in the data for beds per capita for inpatient care, per capita spending, and admissions. While it is important to note the methodological limitations of existing programs as outlined above, the WHO must also seek to help broaden the availability of mental health services in lower-income countries, to reduce this disparity.
Some individuals and groups are at a higher risk of experiencing mental health problems. In particular discrimination, childhood trauma, and exposure to violence can have deleterious effects on mental health. For this reason, promoting mental health may include require giving particular attention to vulnerable populations. Furthermore, mental health resources and care must adhere to basic principles including the right to confidentiality, the right to access information concerning one’s own health, and for the provision of care in accordance with accepted medical standards. It can be difficult to assess the efficacy of mental health services. Still, this challenge does not negate the right to receive evidence-based care. With appropriate treatment, people living with mental health conditions can maintain their wellbeing while continuing to live and work to their communities.