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January 19, 2012

U.N. Urged to Hold Special Session on Mental Health

An international group of health experts is calling on the United Nations to convene a special session of the General Assembly to focus global attention on mental health issues. In a commentary published January 17 in the journal PLoS Medicine, the group argues that mental, neurological and substance use disorders are core development issues that require commitment and investment to improve global access to care and to promote human rights.

In the article, Judith K. Bass, PhD, MPH, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Vikram Patel, PhD, professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and colleagues write, “The time has come for recognition at the highest levels of global development, namely the U.N. General Assembly, of the urgent need for a global strategy to address the global burden of mental, neurological and substance use disorders.”

The World Health Organization ranks mental, neurological and substance use disorders as leading contributors to the global disease burden. According to the authors, neuropsychiatric disorders alone could cost an estimated $16.1 trillion in lost productivity and quality of life over the next 20 years. While mental health disorders have a profound impact on the social and economic well being of individuals, most sufferers do not have access to evidence-based interventions, while others are marginalized or face discrimination.

The authors call for global investment to enhance access to evidence-based care for mental, neurological and substance use disorders, to ensure human rights under the U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to expand our knowledge of mental, neurological and substance use disorders. They also call for the development of a “People’s Charter for Mental Health” to identify and prioritize steps for improving mental health.

“Together, this grand coalition of local, national and global actors will converge their energies towards the implementation of a U.N. Global Assembly Special Session to achieve the ultimate goal of reducing the global burden of mental, neurological and substance use disorders,” said the authors.

Additional authors of “A United Nations General Assembly Special Session for Mental, Neurological, and Substance Use Disorders: The Time Has Come” are William Eaton, chair of the Department of Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Rebecca Hock, Runeena Kidwai and Flora Or, also from the Bloomberg School’s Department of Mental Health; Lenis Chen of the Bloomberg School’s Department of International Health; Thomas Bornemann of the Carter Center; Matthew Burkey and Kavitha Kolappa of the Johns Hopkins Hospital; John R.M. Copeland of the University of Liverpool; Vijay Ganju of the World Foundation for Mental Health; Patrick Lee of Massachusetts General Hospital; Henry Minas of the University of Melbourne; Giuseppe Raviola of Harvard Medical School; and Benedetto Saraceno of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Media contact: Tim Parsons, director of Public Affairs, at 410-955-7619 or tmparson@jhsph.edu.