Health for all must include mental health

Health for all: why is mental health often left out?

With Universal Health Coverage (UHC) day upon us, and the launch of our mental health appeal, we take a look at how to make sure mental health is central to improving health worldwide.

Universal Health Coverage (UHC) means that everyone, everywhere should have access to quality healthcare without suffering financial hardship. While half the world’s population still lack access to essential health services, we are even further away from achieving universal access to mental health treatment, care and support. Between 76% and 85% of people with severe mental health conditions in Global South countries receive no treatment at all for their conditions.

National health budgets in the poorest countries often allocate less than 1% to mental health. In fact, most countries across the world fail to spend enough on mental health services. This results in far too few mental health workers, and a huge gap in community-based mental healthcare – where people can be supported with a range of appropriate services, local to them.

Lack of funding for mental health services is a major reason people have so few options for care and support in the Global South, if they have any at all. Yet the lack of money for these governments to spend on mental health services is fuelled in part by decisions made by governments like ours. When governments in the Global North allow and enable global tax dodging by big corporations, for example, countries miss out on vast sums in tax which could be spent on public services – like quality mental healthcare.

For those people living with mental health conditions who are able to receive treatment and care, they often have to pay upfront for services. Yet having to pay out-of-pocket for healthcare prevents many people from accessing treatment they may need, and is a major cause of poverty worldwide.

The good news is this picture is changing. Many mental health services providing care through Community Health Workers in the Global South have seen real success and show great potential for expansion.

At Health Poverty Action we know that communities are at the heart of achieving good mental health, and are proud to be working with local people and health workers to help people receive the care and support the need. We are also working with governments to integrate quality mental health treatment and care into existing health services. And we are speaking out on the root causes of poverty and inequality, because we know that the way our world is structured undermines mental health worldwide.

Mental health is crucial to the overall wellbeing of individuals, societies, and countries. With the right conditions put in place, the right barriers lifted, and the right approach to mental health incorporated into UHC – where communities and people living with mental health conditions come first – we can help make good mental health and wellbeing a reality worldwide.

By Hamimu Masudi, Policy and Campaigns Officer for Health Poverty Action, based in East Africa.