Mental health: a neglected aspect of development

Article, 06.04.2017

Access to physical and mental healthcare is a basic human right – one which for many people remains a luxury. The third Sustainable Development Goal stresses the right to health in general terms, highlighting the importance of access to healthcare for all and of promotion and prevention for mental health. 

Groups of people standing in front of various counters at a hospital in Chad.
Making mental health a part of general healthcare improves the quality of services. © SDC

Mental health is a major public health challenge which is often neglected, especially in middle and low-income countries. According to the World Health Organization's 2013–2020 mental health action plan, 80% of people living with a mental disorder receive no treatment in these countries – twice as many as in high-income countries. Moreover, most of the limited resources allocated to mental health flow directly into psychiatric institutions despite their association with what are often poor clinical results and a record of human rights violations.

Making mental health part of general healthcare services improves service quality and lowers the cost for patients and healthcare systems since the services are provided locally. This was the route chosen by Bosnia and Herzegovina when it embarked on a large-scale health system reform in 1996. Switzerland has been supporting this reform since 2010.

Recognising the importance of mental health

The Sustainable Development Goals have highlighted the need to take mental health into account. The third Sustainable Development Goal seeks to "ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages". It can only be achieved through universal health coverage, meaning that every individual and every community has access to the high quality, affordable healthcare services they need, including mental health services.

Target 3.4 mentions mental health explicitly, seeking to "reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being" by 2030.

Universal health coverage is one of the SDC's goals in the healthcare sector. Universal healthcare necessitates both a wide range of services – including mental health services – and a strong health system overall. Strengthening health systems is a prerequisite for the gradual realisation of universal healthcare.