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Most Serious Mental Health Disorders Are Untreated

WHO Report Finds Most Serious Mental Health Disorders Are Untreated

Serious mental health disorders remain largely untreated around the world, with developing countries faring worst but even relatively affluent countries in North America and Western Europe unable to help up to half of their sufferers, according to the findings of a first in a series of studies by the United Nations health agency.

The authors of the World Health Organization WHO report, published in the current issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, have called on countries to re-allocate their resources from treating minor disorders to tackling the more serious cases.

Dr. Ronald Kessler of Harvard University in the United States and Dr T. Bedirhan Ustün of WHO examined the results of more than 60,000 diagnostic interviews of adults from 14 countries - six developed and eight developing - between 2001 and 2003. They studied disorders linked to anxiety, substance abuse, impulse control, mood or other causes.

The report found that between 76 and 85 per cent of those surveyed in developing countries who said they had suffered from a serious mental health disorder in the past year had not received treatment. In developed nations, between 35 and 50 per cent were untreated.

The authors noted that the number of mild cases of mental health problems is so high that there are not enough resources to devote to the more serious cases, adding that early intervention is vital to prevent problems from becoming more severe.

"A new focus on development and evaluation of secondary prevention programs for the early treatment of mild cases is needed to guide rationalization of treatment resource allocation," they concluded.

The proportion of the population who said they suffered from serious mental health disorders varied dramatically between countries. For example, 26 per cent of those surveyed in the United States said they were sufferers, compared to 4 per cent of those samples in the Chinese city of Shanghai.

The authors said they believed the discrepancies reflected different attitudes to mental health, adding that the inhabitants of many non-Western countries are often more reluctant to admit to emotional or substance abuse problems.

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