Invisible Issues: Mental Health Care in Developing Countries

mental health

Mental health is a serious problem in countries all over the world. However, for people in developing countries, it can be even harder to find access to adequate help and support. Without the resources they need to properly handle mental health issues, these citizens can be left feeling lost, alone and out of control.

Finding adequate mental health support can be difficult in some of the most developed countries, so it is no wonder that developing countries struggle to provide the care and assistance necessary to people in need. Let’s take a look at why some of these countries struggle to provide the right resources and care to those with mental health conditions.

Tackling an Invisible Problem

Although mental illness is incredibly common, it is still viewed with a stigma. Because the matter is within the mind and not necessarily a pain that someone experiences externally, many individuals who have never experienced a mental illness believe it is all made up.

This stigma can prevent those suffering with mental illnesses from seeking help when they need it. Untreated mental illness can grow worse, making it more difficult to treat and control. Without adequate care, a mental illness can quickly take over someone’s life. The lack of education about mental illness hurts people all over the world.

There are many companies and non-profits that focus on bringing the benefits of the developed world to countries that are still developing. They bring food, medicine, farming techniques, architects and engineers to improve infrastructure, just to name a few things. While this is all good and in the name of progress, they are ignoring the elephant in the room: the mental health of the people in these countries.

According to the WHO (World Health Organization), mental illness and other neurological disorders are the biggest cause of global ill health and disability. In spite of this, the collective mental health of these developing countries is largely ignored.

This isn’t entirely the fault of the WHO or other global organizations. In many countries, mental illness is considered a punishment from God or an affliction that can be cured by praying, so people don’t come seeking treatment for their symptoms. Those who do are often shunned and forced into isolation.

Collectively, though, organizations are focusing on the physical health of those living in developing countries without taking the time to consider the impact of their mental health as well. One study found that it’s not the inherent poverty in these countries that is impacting the resident’s mental health — it’s factors like insecurity, hopelessness and the threat of violence.

The Impact of Missing Mental Health Care

Providing mental health care isn’t the only problem developing countries face. Others are unable to protect those with a mental health illness, causing them to be detained and stripped of their basic human rights. Instead of giving them the care they need to get better, they are locked away into prison-style treatment facilities.

Some demographics are more likely to be diagnosed with depression and other mental illnesses than others, making it even more vital to improve services around the world. Unipolar depression, for example, is twice as common in women as in men, and that’s globally speaking. The WHO predicts it will become the biggest cause of global disability by 2020.

Western Health Care Isn’t Always Appropriate

While applying western health care methods might seem like a great method to help improve global mental health, it’s not always the best option. A study in 2015 that followed the implementation of western mental health systems in Uganda found that there were many challenges due to the differences between local and global culture —  especially in the way that mental health is regarded.

The models applied globally will need a broader perspective that can be easily adjusted to ensure local values and cultures are respected and included in treatment plans.

In order for these changes to be made, though, the world as a whole will have to accept that mental illnesses actually exist. This invisible problem needs to be addressed in developing countries with the same fervor as the treatment of preventable physical diseases.

When we start addressing mental illness on the same level that we would think about other illnesses, we can start to provide the care people need.

Kate Harveston is a political writer with an interest in social justice and progressive change. She has a background in journalism and Criminal Justice, so she enjoys anything related to law, politics, culture and the written word. In her spare time, her favorite activity is reading dystopian fiction. If you like her work, you can subscribe to her blog, Only Slightly Biased, or follow her on Twitter for updates!


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