World Health Day: Global Mental Healthcare Needs Urgent Change

7 Apr 2017 - 12:00

It’s becoming increasingly clear that an urgent overhaul of global mental healthcare is required to address the emerging depression epidemic. The World Health Organization estimates that the total number of people living with depression increased by 18.4%[1] between 2005 and 2015 and that depression is the biggest cause of disability worldwide. More than 80% of this disease burden is found among people living in low- and middle-income countries.

The Programme for Improving Mental Healthcare (PRIME) therefore welcomes this year’s World Health Day (7 April 2017) focus on depression. Of specific importance on this World Health Day, is a recent PRIME study investigating the treatment contact coverage (the proportion of affected individuals who seek help with a service provider) for people with symptoms of depression in Nepal, India, Ethiopia and Uganda.

The results show the proportion of adults who screened positive for depression over the past 12 months ranged from 11.2% in Nepal to 29.7% in India. The proportion of those with depression symptoms who sought treatment during the same period ranged from 8.1% in Nepal to 23.5% in India. This confirms the presence of a substantial treatment gap for depressive symptoms in these low-resource settings.

“We’ve found that within these settings there are many unmet mental healthcare needs. PRIME aims to improve help-seeking behaviour within these communities as well as to improve clinic detection rates,” said Dr Sujit Rathod of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the lead author of the study.

PRIME calls on ministries of health around the globe to act now, and utilise the emerging robust evidence that indicates that treatment for depression delivered in low and middle-income countries (LMIC) can be effective and cost-effective.

This short video clip demonstrates how the work of PRIME helped MaAgnes from the North West province in South Africa to seek help and receive a diagnosis and treatment for her depression by simply visiting her local clinic. These primary care clinic services are now being delivered by Ministries of Health in five countries, in partnership with PRIME.

PRIME is a consortium of research institutions and Ministries of Health in five countries in Asia and Africa (Ethiopia, India, Nepal, South Africa & Uganda). It is led from the University of Cape Town with partners in the UK and the World Health Organization (WHO). PRIME’s goal is to generate world-class research evidence on the implementation and scaling up of treatment programmes for priority mental disorders in primary and maternal health care contexts in low resource settings.

PRIME is supported by the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID), and is an eight-year programme which was launched in May 2011.


[1] This reflects the overall growth of the global population, as well as a proportionate increase in the age groups at which depression is more prevalent.