The 170th session of the PAHO/WHO Executive Committee reviewed the draft Policy for Improving Mental Health in the Region of the Americas and resolved to recommend its approval by the 30th Pan American Sanitary Conference. The Executive Committee recognized the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health and well-being of the population and on services for the care of mental, neurological, and substance use disorders, which has widened the care gap and led to inequities in health.
The Policy for Improving Mental Health promotes the integration of mental health in all policies and multisectoral partnerships; working to improve the availability, accessibility, and quality of community-based mental health services; the importance of mental health promotion and prevention throughout the life course; and reinforcing mental health and psychosocial support in emergency contexts. It also highlights the need to strengthen evidence and research to improve decision making.
The Executive Committee urged governments to promote increased investment of financial and human resources in mental health care and build stronger, more resilient mental health systems for the post-pandemic period, as well as to improve and scale up community-based mental health services and integrate mental health into all levels of care to ensure universal health coverage.
Renato Oliveira e Souza (Unit Chief, Mental Health and Substance Use, PAHO/WHO) noted that “the Policy for Improving Mental Health will guide PAHO/WHO Member States and the Pan American Sanitary Bureau to achieve a comprehensive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, rebuilding the mental health systems and services needed to achieve social and economic development with equity within the framework of universal health coverage”.
The head of the PAHO/WHO Mental Health Unit stressed that the whole of society must be engaged in improving mental health: “together we can achieve this through strategic alliances with broad sectors of society and the political commitment of the governments of the countries of the Region”.
Mental health is an integral element of overall health, a fundamental right, and an essential component of universal health coverage. Poor mental health is both a cause and a consequence of poverty, compromised education, and gender inequality, among other challenges.
PAHO’s Executive Committee meets twice a year to discuss the organization’s budget and policies to address pressing health issues in the region. The Pan American Sanitary Conference meets every five years to determine general policies, and the Executive Committee acts as a working party of the Conference.