Mental health: a public health priority in the Americas.

Abstract

de Salud Pública/Pan American Journal of Public Health, which is devoted to two closely related subjects: mental health and the abuse of psychoactive substances. Depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders often occur in association with dependency on alcohol or other substances. This dependency—which by itself is a mental health problem—is an important risk factor for other mental disorders. In turn, mental imbalances impel the progression toward alcoholism and drug addiction. In addition, patients with mental health problems and patients with substance abuse problems both face the stigma and the discrimination associated with those illnesses, and those persons’ access to health services is equally limited. Health authorities recognize that mental disorders and substance abuse are important public health problems. Nevertheless, research carried out in recent years on those problems’ prevalence, impact, and associated costs demonstrate that their magnitude has been underestimated. It is projected that the number of people with mental disorders in the Region of the Americas will increase from 114 million in 1990 to 176 million in 2010 (1). In 2000 these disorders comprised 24% of the burden of disease in the Region of the Americas (2), with depression being the principal component of that burden (3). When analyzing these figures, it should be taken into account that mental health problems affect both adults and children. Nearly 20% of children and adolescents suffer from disorders that require the support of or intervention by mental health care services, and those disorders lead to both social stigma and discrimination (4). According to the World Health Report 2002, alcohol abuse is the risk factor that most influences the burden of disease in the Americas (more than 10% of the overall disease burden); in 2000 it caused at least 225 000 deaths and represented 10 250 000 disability-adjusted life years (5). Alcohol continues to be the factor that most contributes to traffic accidents and to deaths from external injuries and violence, and it causes an immeasurable amount of chronic disease. Illegal drugs are consumed much less often than is alcohol in the Region of the Americas, but drug use has increased and is associated with the transmission of HIV and of infectious diseases transmitted by injecting drug use. Thanks to scientific advances in recent decades we now understand much better the causes of mental disorders and substance abuse, and new, effective interventions for treating and preventing these health problems have been devised. However, most people still do not have access to these therapies. The first results from mental health surveys conducted in several countries of Latin America show that nearly 80% of the people with mental health problems do not have access to health services (6). The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has been working with the countries of the Americas to build their capacity to gather information on mental health and substance abuse, develop and apply appropriate policies, strengthen services, and improve national legislation, in order to enhance systems to prevent and control these problems. Editorial

Cite this paper

@article{Periago2005MentalHA, title={Mental health: a public health priority in the Americas.}, author={Mirta Roses Periago}, journal={Revista panamericana de salud pública = Pan American journal of public health}, year={2005}, volume={18 4-5}, pages={226-8; 223-5} }