This Sunday, October 10, 2010, more than one hundred countries will recognize World Mental Health Day.  This annual observance, sponsored by World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH), was created 18 years ago in an effort to raise awareness of the seriousness of mental health at national, regional and local levels around the world.  The focus of this year’s events and programs is Mental Health and Chronic Illness: The Need for Continued and Integrated Care.  Though the focus of the day changes with the year, the goal of changing the perception, acceptance and attention given to mental illness stays the same.

Today, in support of this event and in recognition of the lack of qualified mental health specialists around the globe, the World Health Organization (WHO) published the mhGAP Intervention Guide for mental, neurological and substance use disorders in non-specialized health settings.  According to the WHO website “The mental health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) aims at scaling up services for mental, neurological and substance use disorders for countries especially with low- and middle-income. The program asserts that with proper care, psychosocial assistance and medication, tens of millions could be treated for depression, schizophrenia, and epilepsy, prevented from suicide and begin to lead normal lives– even where resources are scarce.”

This guide provides guidelines and clinical practices for primary care doctors to follow when treating a patient with a potential mental health issue.  This is invaluable in poor countries where any medical care can be hard to come by, and in more developed countries where it’s hard to find a mental health professional.  As we’ve stated in the past regarding mental health conditions around the globe, finding the right practitioner can be a challenge; in many cultures, physicians are not accustomed to prescribing medications for mental health conditions. Even in a western European country such as Germany, a wide and thorough search may be necessary to find a doctor that will provide care consistent with a treatment plan prescribed in the U.S.

These new guidelines will increase the likelihood that travelers will find competent providers of mental health services when seeking care far away from home.


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