Washington, D.C., 1 October 2014(PAHO/WHO) - Ministers of health from throughout the Americas agreed today to promote a set of measures designed to improve mental health care in their countries. These include the preparation of plans to ensure effective services and prevention programs for people with mental disorders and psychoactive substance-related disorders.

The Plan of Action on Mental Health, approved at the 53rd Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), seeks to promote mental well-being, prevent mental disorders and psychoactive substance-related disorders, and offer care and rehabilitation using a community-based model.

An estimated 19—24% of the population of the Americas suffers from a mental disorder, led by depression, which is twice as common in women as in men. From 10—15% of women in industrialized countries and 20—40% of women in developing countries suffer from depression during pregnancy or in the weeks after giving birth. Some 65,000 people die from suicide every year in the Americas.

Disorders related to alcohol and psychoactive substances are also a growing problem and have a major social impact, yet adequate services are often unavailable to those affected. In the Americas, more than 73% of adults who need treatment for affective disorders, anxiety, or substance use do not receive it.

"Despite the burden represented by mental disorders and psychoactive substance—related disorders, there is insufficient response from health systems in many countries, with limited resources and hospital-based models," said Jorge Rodríguez, PAHO/WHO Senior Advisor on Mental Health. "However, positive and innovative examples do exist: several countries of the region have had very encouraging experiences and results. We can look to the future in the Americas with optimism."

"This plan of action urges countries to evolve toward a comprehensive, decentralized, participatory, community-based model of mental health care linked to primary health care, to which everyone who needs access can have it, regardless of their condition, and where skilled personnel provide psychosocial treatment and rehabilitation services," said Rodríguez.

The plan of action calls for flexible implementation over a six-year period in order for it to be adapted to the situation of each country. Among the main lines of action, the countries agreed to:

  • Draft and implement plans and laws on mental health and mental health promotion, with active civil society participation.
  • Promote universal and equitable access to comprehensive, community-based mental health services for the entire population.
  • Advance efforts to move from a model based on psychiatric hospitals toward a community-based model that integrates mental health into primary health care and into general hospitals.
  • Strengthen human resources for mental health to boost the response capacity of mental health services.
  • Engage in specific suicide-prevention interventions, including the improvement of information and surveillance systems.
  • Strengthen partnerships between different sectors of government (e.g., education, labor, economy, and transportation), and with nongovernmental organizations and academia.
  • Improve information and research on mental health issues.

Among other points on the agenda, the Member States requested PAHO to support the implementation of these actions in the countries, facilitate the exchange of information and experiences, and promote partnerships with other international and nongovernmental organizations.

The PAHO Directing Council meets once a year, in the years when the Pan American Sanitary Conference is not held, to set the Organization's policies and priorities. Participating delegations include health authorities from PAHO's 35 Member States and representatives of its four Associate Members and two Observer States. In addition to establishing the mandates for PAHO's technical cooperation programs, the Directing Council also acts as a forum for technical staff and government representatives to share information and ideas on health in the region.

PAHO works with the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of its population. Founded in 1902, it is the world's oldest international public health agency. PAHO serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of World Health Organization (WHO) and the specialized health agency of the Inter-American System.

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