July 7, 2011

New Study Identifies Major Obstacles In Mental Health

A new study has identified the major obstacles to improving the lives of people with mental illness around the world.

Professor Abdallah S. Daar, a senior scientist with the McLaughlin-Rotman Center for Global Health at the University Health Network (UHN) and the University of Toronto, co-authored the study entitled "Grand Challenges in Global Mental Health."

He brought together over 400 international researchers, advocates, clinicians and other experts to identify these mental illnesses.

"Mental illnesses are a problem for the whole of humanity "“ globally, they contribute a huge burden, and they are poorly dealt with in almost all countries. This is why we need to develop a global list of challenges and priorities," Daar wrote in the journal Nature.

The study took 18 months to complete and began in early 2010. The study applied the ability to reduce disease burden, impact on equity, immediacy of impact and feasibility. 

"For the first time ever, we have provided a clear picture on where the greatest needs lie in terms of tackling global mental health problems," Daar said in a statement. "This will help scientists, advocates, clinicians and practitioners to focus their efforts and will also help global Ministries of Health and funding agencies to understand the whole picture, prioritize and identify appropriate entry points."

"Substantial progress in mental health research can be made over the next decade if research funding agencies focus on these priorities."

Dean Catharine Whiteside of University of Toronto's Faculty of Medicine says Canadian researchers will continue to play a lead role in mental health research as they hone in on the study's grand priorities.

"Scientific research into mental illness has long been a major focus at the University of Toronto, but a clearer vision for research that will have meaningful impact is emerging, thanks to the work of Professor Daar and his international colleagues," Whiteside said in a statement. "With these goals in mind, our top researchers will continue to work collaboratively with global partners to address the most pressing mental health challenges."

According to the research, the disorders targeted by the study collectedly account for more years of life lost to poor health, disability, or early death than either cardiovascular disease or cancer.

The top five challenges identified by the study include: 

  • Integrate screening and core packages of services into routine primary health care
  • Reduce the cost and improve the supply of effective medications
  • Improve children's access to evidence-based care by trained health providers in low- and middle-income countries
  • Provide effective and affordable community-based care and rehabilitation
  • Strengthen the mental health component in the training of all health care personnel.

The top five challenges were ranked according to the ability to reduce the burden of disease, ability to reduce inequalities in health and health care, length of time until results can be observed, and the ability for the topic to be researched effectively.

"Our previous studies had already identified global challenges and priorities for chronic diseases and infectious diseases. Mental health is the next frontier," concludes Daar.


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