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Understanding mental health

Feb 22,2014 - Last updated at Feb 22,2014

Last week I was privileged to attend the opening ceremony of the newly completed psychiatric unit in the University of Jordan Hospital in Amman, established in collaboration with the World Health Organisation Jordan Office and the Jordanian Nursing Council.

It is WHO’s hope that the creation of this unit will contribute to the hospital’s ongoing efforts to provide more comprehensive health services by addressing the mental health needs of the population in Jordan, Jordanians and non-Jordanians alike.

Globally, more than 450 million people suffer from mental disorders. These disorders represent a large public health burden as they may affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, socio-economic status or background.

Mental disorders impact people’s functioning, leading to difficulties in completing daily activities in various areas of life, including academic, vocational, social and recreational.

Their consequent emotional suffering and economic burdens influence both the individual and the family, and their negative ramifications extend to the entire community through the direct costs of treatment and the indirect cost resulting from the loss of productivity.

Further compounding the problem is the strong association between mental and physical illnesses; people with chronic physical illnesses exhibit higher percentages of certain mental disorders, such as depression.

Despite the significant impact of mental health problems, few of the people in need of treatment and care receive it. 

Moreover, these problems are both misunderstood and seldom talked about.

The issue of mental health still remains marginalised, and the pervasive negative stigma associated with it further hinders people from seeking the care they need.

The stigma does not stop at the disorder and individuals suffering from it, but extends to their families and sometimes even to practitioners working in this field.

The opening of this psychiatric unit is one of the many steps taken towards a more universal understanding of mental health in Jordan. However, there is still a long way to go.

Mental health issues in many areas of the Kingdom continue to be an undiscussed topic.

Although WHO strives to highlight the need for advocacy, social understanding and recognition of the problem, we are still facing an uphill battle in establishing mental health as a cross-cutting issue that is an integral part of the health, social welfare, labour, education and other sectors.

 It is crucial for us to recognise mental health issues and to accept and support the people who suffer from them, not only in our health centres but also in our schools, universities, workplaces and community centres.

WHO endeavours to create a new culture of understanding around this issue, allowing a greater level of awareness, acceptance, empowerment and action for an improved mental health and psychosocial well-being for all.

For WHO, efforts made towards integrating mental health into primary healthcare is one of the main successes in recent history.

The implementation of the “Mental Health Gap Action Programme” (which was launched in 2008 by WHO) into pilot governmental primary healthcare centres, together with the global action plan (2013-2020), is seen as a significant step towards a more inclusive approach to mental health.

WHO and the Ministry of Health are working to utilise the available resources, however limited, to scale up services for mental, neurological and substance use disorders by the rigorous training and supervision of health staff to provide treatment for people with depression, schizophrenia, developmental and behavioural disorders, epilepsy and other main conditions witnessed at primary healthcare facilities.

Jordan continues to make positive steps in the field of mental health. The first ever users’ organisation (Our Step Association) has been established to empower service users and their families, combat the stigmatisation of mental health beneficiaries and advocate for their rights.

This organisation has grown significantly since it was first established by WHO in 2010, and its tireless efforts to support people with mental health problems and their families continue to gain admiration in the field.

WHO believes that in order to bring about real improvement in the mental health situation in Jordan, it remains vital to identify measures to address the sustainability and unpredictable continuity of financial or other resources, in addition to targeting continued political commitment, institutional support, human resources, the limited services for children and adolescents, the dearth of research, mental health awareness and advocacy bodies.

The opening of the psychiatric unit in the University of Jordan Hospital is another sign that the tide is changing in Jordan; a small step in the right direction.

It is seen as part of the broader agenda of integrated, accessible provision of mental health services across the spectrum of care.

WHO hopes that this facility will support as many people in need of mental health services as possible.

While mental health is becoming an increasingly important health issue with relevance to policy reforms and changes, it still remains an unspoken burden, an issue that individuals and families feel somewhat embarrassed to talk about.

Much more work, and more partnerships and initiatives are needed to meet the mental health and psychosocial needs of the population in Jordan.

The writer is technical officer for mental health at the World Health Organisation, Jordan. She contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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