The World Health Organisation (WHO) has launched a social media campaign to raise awareness on mental health illness, believed to account for up to 11 per cent of risk factors associated with suicide.
“Every death by suicide is a tragedy,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said, noting that the suicide prevention is rarely a priority in national health programmes.
Ahead of World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, she called for “significant investment…to tackle Africa’s growing burden of chronic diseases and non-infectious conditions – such as mental disorders – that can contribute to suicide.
According to WHO, mental health problems affect 116 million people in the African region, up from 53 million in 1990.
The continent also has six of the top 10 countries for suicide in the world, while the agency also noted that for each suicide in Africa, there were an estimated 20 suicide attempts.
WHO said despite the urgency of the problem, African governments allocated less than 50 cents per person to treat mental health problems.
This is five times more than in 2017, but still well below the recommended 2 dollars per person for low-income countries.
Additionally, mental health care is generally not included in national health insurance schemes, WHO said, noting that in Africa, there is only one psychiatrist for every 500,000 inhabitants.
This is 100 times below the WHO recommendation.
Additionally, mental health workers mostly work in urban areas, often leaving rural communities without any support.
“Mental health is integral to wholesome health and well-being yet far too many people in our region who need help for mental health conditions do not receive it.
“It’s time to for radical change.
“Ongoing efforts by countries should be reinforced and broadened to make mental healthcare a public health priority in the African region,” Moeti said.
WHO already supports countries in its efforts to step up mental health services in Africa.
This includes assistance for primary health care workers in Zimbabwe, who receive training to boost quality and access to mental health services.
WHO also supports Cabo Verde and Cote d’Ivoire with national suicide situation analysis, as a first step towards devising effective response measures.
In August, African health ministers agreed on a new strategy to reinforce mental health care at a WHO regional conference.
The 2030 targets they decided upon called for all countries on the continent to have a policy or legislation on mental health.
A policy for 60 per cent of countries to implement the policy, for 95 per cent to monitor and report on key mental health indicators, and 80 per cent to budget for mental health services.