Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. 8 October, 2020. In the Caribbean and worldwide, mental health disorders are now recognised as the fifth major non-communicable disease and a major threat to health and economic development in the 21st century.
According to the World Health Organization one in four persons globally will be affected by a mental disorder or neurological disorder in their lifetime and 450 million are affected by these disorders, such as, depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia and substance (e.g. alcohol, nicotine) dependency.
Mental health disorders are a leading cause of disability and a major contributor to the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Region. In Jamaica for example, the burden of mental illness is predicted to cause US$2.76 billion in lost economic output from 2015-2030.
This year’s World Mental Health Day, on 10 October, comes at a time when lives have changed considerably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign focuses on investment in mental health.
The World Federation for Mental Health states “Good mental health is critical to the functioning of society at the best of times. It must be front and centre of every country’s response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The mental health and wellbeing of whole societies have been severely impacted by this crisis and are a priority to be addressed urgently.”
The current COVID-19 pandemic is also affecting different people in different ways, and is having a major impact on persons’ mental health and well-being including those persons who have existing mental illnesses. Persons with mental disorders often face stigma and discrimination, limitation of human rights, abuse, neglect and inadequate access to community-based treatment, care and support services. Addressing stigma and discrimination are important strategies in programmes for mental health disorders.
Investing in interventions designed to improve health can help reduce the burden of these illnesses. There are cost-effective interventions that Caribbean countries can implement to prevent and control mental illnesses. Scaled up treatment for mental health disorders are likely to increase healthy life years, thus avoiding significant economic losses and social costs. Over a 15-year period, scaling up treatment for mental health conditions in Jamaica would result in J$4.2 return on investment for every J$1 invested.2
“We must support interventions and investments aimed at prevention and treatment of chronic diseases. So that we move closer to achieving our goals, we need to continue to pledge support to the 2007 Declaration of Port of Spain: Uniting to Stop the Epidemic of Chronic Non-communicable Diseases, and the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3.4 which aims to reduce, by 2030, premature mortality from non-communicable diseases by one third, through prevention and treatment and the promotion of mental health and well-being,” said Dr Joy St John, CARPHA Executive Director.
She further stated that a ‘whole of society approach’ is essential in order to prevent and control mental disorders and other NCDs. No one person, organisation or government can do this. All members of society need to play their role to achieve success.
CARPHA continues to work closely with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Institutions of the Community, Member States and its public health partners to create the needed alliances between governments, academia, civil society and others, to help to shape regional and country-level policy and programmes that address the issues of mental health disorders and to promote mental wellbeing.
In September of this year, CARPHA and countries across the Region celebrated Caribbean Wellness Day. The annual event was geared at increasing awareness and promoting activities to address non-communicable diseases including mental health.
CARPHA urges everyone to engage in healthy lifestyles like being physically active, engaging in healthy eating; if you smoke, please quit, reduce consumption of alcohol to the recommended safe quantities, get annual health checks, improve your personal relationships with family and friends and take care of your mental health. During the pandemic be calm, be safe, and seek help if unable to cope.
 Care for Mental Health Conditions in Jamaica: The Case for Investment. Evaluating the Return on Investment of Scaling Up Treatment for Depression, Anxiety, and Psychosis. Washington, D.C.: UNIATF, UNDP and PAHO; 2019.
 Retrieved from website: https://www.who.int/teams/mental-health-and-substance-use/covid-19