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International News
World Health Day to Focus on Mental Health
Psychiatric News
Volume 36 Number 3 page 12-12

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental illness in the Americas is on the rise. While 114 million people in the region were estimated to have a mental disorder in 1990, it is projected that 176 million will be affected in 2010. Alarmingly, more than half of people with mental disorders are not identified or treated.

Recognizing the consequences of mental illness in the Americas, as well as across the globe, WHO has dedicated this year’s World Health Day to mental health. While related events will be held on April 7, 2001, WHO’s dedication to this theme will span the entire year.

In May, for instance, during the WHO’s World Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, a special session will be dedicated to mental health. In addition, mental health is the featured topic of this year’s "World Health Report," to be released in October.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) will coordinate the celebration of World Health Day and help to prepare the "World Health Report" on the status of mental health care in the Americas. APA also worked closely with WHO to plan events for World Health Day.

According to George A.O. Alleyne, M.D., director of the PAHO, the goals of World Health Day are ongoing. "We must enhance the visibility of mental health in our region," he said. "We must join efforts to put into practice adequate mental health policies and programs, to develop mental health information systems, and create new legislation protecting the rights of people with mental health problems," commented Alleyne.

Since its beginnings almost 100 years ago, the PAHO has been working on decreasing the burden and stigma of mental illness, according to José Miguel Caldas de Almeida, M.D., who is the mental health program coordinator in the PAHO’s Division of Health Promotion and Protection. "The 1990 Caracas Declaration, signed by most countries, opened the way to an initiative called Restructuring of Mental Health Services, which sought to improve mental health care," said Caldas de Almeida.

Recent times are no exception, and with the advent of this year’s World Health Day, the PAHO is working harder than ever to promote mental health. "Through the efforts of its Program on Mental Health," said Caldas de Almeida, "PAHO is working on the development of mental health policies, national plans, and the management of the most prevalent mental disorders with special programs on depression and psychosis."

Several special events are planned in conjunction with World Health Day. One will be held on April 5 at the United Nations in New York and another on April 6 at the PAHO headquarters in Washington, D.C.

PAHO is also sponsoring a conference titled "Mental Health in the Americas: Partnering for Progress," in collaboration with the National Institute of Mental Health. The conference will be held in Washington D.C., on November 5 and 6. According to Caldas de Almeida, professionals, policymakers, and consumers from all the countries of the Americas will participate.

"The main goal is to discuss mental health in the Americas and promote the creation of regional partnerships in the field," added Caldas de Almeida. "It is expected that [the conference] will help to establish new networks and create partnerships in the areas of research, training, and policy development." ▪

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