Mental health: a global challenge

According to the Pan American Health Organization, about 5% of the adult population in Latin suffers depression. The most common mental health disorder was the focus of this year’s World Mental Health Day (October 10, 2012). A global crisis, the theme was chosen “to advocate for recognizing the disease and addressing it. Because of the stigma suffered by people with depression, many sufferers hide it or do not talk about it and even avoid treatment.”

PAHO states that “[b]etween 60% and 65% of ill people do not receive care. The lack of appropriate services; of trained health professionals, especially in primary care; and the social stigma associated with mental disorders are some of the barriers to access to appropriate care, in addition to the need for boosting capacity for the identification and early treatment of depression. In the region, it is calculated that less than 2% of the health budget is allocated to mental health, and of this, 67% is spent on mental hospitals.”

To address these issues, a consortium of researchers, clinicians and advocates have called for urgent action and investment for programs to improve the lives of people with mental illness around the globe.

In the interview below, Dr. Pamela Collins, Director of the Office for Research on Disparities & Global Mental Health at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) discusses global mental health as an emerging field, and the role of strategic collaboration in the global environment.  At the 3:40 mark, the discussion turns to cell phones: “Wherever you look, people who may not have access to electricity have access to cell phones.” For global mental health, what is cell phone’s role? Although not much have been done with mobile phones in the global mental health area, Dr. Collins mentions HIV/AIDS as an area where cell-phone based interventions have been applied and possibilities for how it might work in mental health.

Earlier in the interview, she mentions Grand Challenges in Global Mental Health. The website lists several Grand Challenges for global mental health, including: stigma, global advocacy, prevention and public awareness. These are all areas within which health communicators can have an impact.

Currently, the NIMH is requesting applications in response to RFA-MH-13-040, “Grand Challenges in Global Mental Health: Integrating Mental Health into Chronic Disease Care Provision in Low- and Middle-Income Countries” (R01). Foreign investigators encouraged to apply! For more information, visit

The website gives an abundance of guidelines for different types of research topics. For those interested in ehealth, I wanted to highlight one area: Test the impact of innovative technologies (e.g., mobile phones or telehealth interventions, etc.) and information systems on the clinical management of people with co-morbid mental and chronic health conditions in LMICs.

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