■ At some point in their lives, most people have either suffered from depression or seen someone close to them suffer. Because it is such a personal issue, most people think of depression on a personal level. It is important to realize that depression is actually a global problem. It is the leading cause of disability and the fourth largest contributor to the global burden of disease. (World Health Organization, 2000)
__Depression is just one part of global mental health. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are affected by mental, behavioral, neurological and substance-use disorders—and that number may be increasing. The global burden of disease attributable to mental, neurological, and substance-use disorders is expected to rise from 12.3 percent in 2000 to 14.7 percent in 2020.
__Estimates made by the World Health Organization in 2002 posited that 154 million people globally suffer from depression and 25 million people from schizophrenia; 91 million people are affected by alcohol-use disorders and 15 million by drug-use disorders. A recently published WHO report shows that 50 million people suffer from epilepsy and at least 24 million from Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Finally, about 877,000 people die by suicide every year.
__One in four patients visiting a health service has at least one mental, neurological or behavioral disorder, but most of these disorders are not diagnosed or treated.
__The overwhelming majority of the 400 million persons with mental disorders globally are not being provided with even the most basic mental health care that they should receive. (American Journal of Psychiatry, August 2006)
__There is a high cost to society when mental health is ignored. Economically, there is a huge loss in productivity due to untreated mental disorders. Socially, undiagnosed and untreated mental illness can exact a harsh toll on families and communities. The burden becomes even greater when one takes into account the physical illnesses that often develop due to untreated conditions such as substance abuse.
__Just as health is more than just the absence of illness, mental health is not only an absence of mental disorders. While it is essential that education about mental illness spreads throughout the world, and that a better global support network be established for the mentally ill, it is also important to recognize that a true state of mental health is not neutral, it is positive. When people’s rights are respected, when they can engage in meaningful activities, and when they can use the brain’s full potential for creativity and happiness, the incidence of depression, dementia and substance abuse will decline—and the benefits will not end there. [bw]