On October 7, 2013, the highly anticipated Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020 was launched by the World Health Organization. The Action Plan is a tangible representation of the growing understanding that mental health is an integral component of health and well-being. This landmark document does much more than delineate a trajectory for the improvement of global mental health services; it also serves to provide a clear and strong voice for people with mental illness and their fellow advocates for accessible and effective care.
In the words of WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, the Action Plan “focuses international attention on a long-neglected problem, and it does so with a welcome sense of urgency. It is a signal that mental health deserves much higher strategic priority. And it is a signal with an articulate and unified voice behind it.”
The Action Plan is closely tied to the WHO’s mental health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP), which was launched in 2008. The mhGAP program is an effort to expand and improve care for mental, neurological and substance use disorders in low-resource settings. While mhGAP is being implemented in low- and middle-income countries, the Mental Health Action Plan is a global effort to raise standards for mental health services, incite new research, and provide concrete steps for all nations to take in providing quality mental health services.
The overall goal of the Mental Health Action Plan is to promote mental well-being, prevent mental disorders, provide care, enhance recovery, promote human rights and reduce the mortality, morbidity and disability for persons with mental disorders. This is a clearly ambitious list, yet progress is underway to make great strides in these areas by the year 2020. The Action Plan delineates concrete objectives and targets for nations to reach by 2020, focusing on principles such as universal health coverage for people with mental disorders, preservation of human rights, promotion of evidence-based treatments, and a multi-sectoral approach that partners with other relevant public sectors such as health and education.
The rights and dignity of people with mental illness have been historically violated, and the widespread stigma associated with mental illness as well as low accessibility of care have indeed posed large challenges toward the provision of quality mental health services world-wide. The implementation of the Mental Health Action Plan is a sign of a changing discourse surrounding mental health, one which positions mental health as an emerging priority area within global health systems. The commitment made by the World Health Organization and its Member States to implement the Action Plan and place on emphasis on mental health as an essential component of well-being is a true achievement, and major step in achieving good health and well-being for all people.