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1 in 7 in Southeast Asia live with a mental health condition, treatment gap in some countries is ‘huge’: WHO official

About 260 million people in Southeast Asia – about one in seven – live with a mental health condition, and many of them are not receiving timely treatment, said a World Health Organization (WHO) official. 

Mental health conditions are highly prevalent in the region, Dr Andrea Bruni, WHO’s regional adviser for mental health in Southeast Asia, told CNA. 

Meanwhile, the treatment gap is huge, he said in an interview on Tuesday (Oct 10), as the world marked Mental Health Day. 

“In some countries, the treatment gap is as high as 90 per cent, meaning that up to 90 per cent of those that have needs in mental health are not receiving appropriate, timely treatment and care, or not receiving treatment and care at all.”

MENTAL HEALTH STIGMA STILL WIDESPREAD

Mental health stigma is also still widespread in Southeast Asia, noted Dr Bruni, who was speaking from New Delhi. 

“Very often, stigma translates into discrimination of people suffering from these conditions. Stigma is particularly pronounced for people with severe mental health conditions.”

He added that a common myth which is widespread in the region is that individuals with such conditions need to receive treatment, care and support in mental health institutions, psychiatric hospitals, and asylums. 

“The fact is different. The fact is that people with mental health conditions need to access services which are based in the community, which are more accessible and better respect the human rights of people,” he noted. 

However, things are slowly changing, Dr Bruni said. 

“Things are changing through the active engagement and empowerment of people with lived experience and caregivers, (which) should be an integral and fundamental actor in designing policies and services for mental health.”

SUICIDE IS A SERIOUS PUBLIC HEALTH CHALLENGE

Suicide is also a pressing concern that healthcare experts are looking to address. 

According to the WHO, an estimated 200,000 people in the region lose their life to suicide every year.

“We know that suicide is the leading cause of premature mortality among young people in many countries,” said Dr Bruni. 

He noted that there are some concrete interventions that countries can take, such as managing those who with suicidal thoughts, promoting responsible reporting of suicide in the media, and building up the social and emotional life skills of youths. 

There is also a need to address the means of suicide, he added. 

“And in this region, we know that the most (common) means is pesticides. So we need to regulate, limit, and ban access to pesticides.”

This is a serious public health challenge, Dr Bruni cautioned. “We need to work on it because we know that suicides are preventable, but preventing them is no easy task.” 

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