PAHO Directing Council endorse new regional strategy to improve mental health and prevent suicide

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Washington, DC, September 27, 2023 (PAHO)- Health authorities at the 60th Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) today approved a new regional strategy aimed at improving mental health and suicide prevention in the Americas and mobilizing resources to respond to the demand for care.

The new strategy responds to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the increased prevalence of mental health problems and related disruptions in essential services.

The Strategy for Improving Mental Health and Suicide Prevention in the Region of the Americas aims to guide PAHO Member States in their efforts through an equity- and rights-based approach to mental health care, taking into account the national context, needs, and priorities.

“Even before the pandemic, we were already facing a significant burden of mental illnesses with inadequate care for those affected, which was further exacerbated by COVID-19 pandemic. This strategy aims to support countries to prioritize mental health by integrating it into all policies,” Dr. Anselm Hennis, Director of the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health at PAHO, said.

According to the document, the pandemic has worsened pre-existing mental health conditions, such as major depressive and anxiety disorders, which increased by 35% and 32% respectively during 2020 in Latin America and the Caribbean. The most recent data show that each year almost 100,000 people die by suicide in the Americas, making it the only World Health Organization (WHO) region where the suicide rate is on the rise.

Women, young people, indigenous populations, Afro-descendants, and members of other ethnic groups, as well as people living in poverty and those with preexisting mental health disorders, are among the most severely affected.

Despite the high costs associated with mental health issues and suicides in the region, care is not always prioritized, and the funding for addressing mental health is insufficient, with only a small fraction of national health budgets (around 3%) allocated to this area.

The regional strategy establishes six lines of action to address this issue:

  1. Build mental health leadership, governance, and multisectoral partnerships, and integrate mental health in all policies;
  2. Improve the availability, accessibility, and quality of community-based services for mental health conditions, and support the advance of deinstitutionalization;
  3. Advance mental health promotion and prevention strategies and activities throughout the life course;
  4. Reinforce the integration of mental health and psychosocial support in emergency contexts;
  5. Strengthen data, evidence, and research;
  6. Make suicide prevention a national whole-of-government priority and build multisectoral capacity to respond to people affected by suicidal behaviors.

In June 2023, the PAHO High-Level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19 published its final report on how to move forward on mental health in the region, whose recommendations underpin this strategy.