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  • Inequality and austerity as a cause of global mental health crisis.

    Inequality and austerity as a cause of global mental health crisis. | Photo: Reuters

Published 25 June 2019

Governments' potential disposition to invest in vital public services could also be more efficient than “the excessive use of psychotropic medication," a U.N. expert warns. 

Inequality and austerity are exacerbating mental health crisis around the world said a report delivered Monday to the United Nations (U.N.) by Dainius Pūrasa, a Lithuanian psychiatrist and the U.N.'s special rapporteur on health.

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“The profound and dynamic cause and effect relationship between mental health and inequalities compellingly suggest that mental health equity may be an especially important marker of social progress,” the report warns.

The U.N. expert said the solution to the increasingly widespread mental health crisis lays in the hands of states, as their social and economic intervention could lessen poverty and economic injustice.

Their potential disposition to invest in vital public services could also be more efficient than “the excessive use of psychotropic medication which is happening,” he explained in an interview with The Guardian.

“Cuts to social welfare, laws and policies that restrict access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, the criminalization of drug possession or cultivation for personal use, laws that restrict civil society space and corporal punishment of children and adults illustrate how governments can directly undermine the promotion of health,” the study points out. 

For the experts, promotion and protection of mental health are priority areas, just as every human basic right. They constitute therefore a development priority. However, the exclusive biomedical narrative to explain mental disabilities is too narrowly focused, it negates and puts aside socio-economic situations and de-responsibilizes the states. 

Pūrasa highlights that governments thus have the obligation to join in the effort to protect people's mental health by “creating and sustaining conditions to promote a life of dignity and well being for all.”

"Reducing inequalities is a precondition for promoting mental health and for reducing key risk factors, such as violence, disempowerment and social exclusion," it adds.

The report comes as global trend indicates an increase in policies that, instead of investing in people and helping them improve their lives and conditions, rather undermine their rights leading to the impoverishment of their health, both physical and mental.

Lack of political will that “fuels this cycle of discrimination, inequality, social exclusion and violence” as the report recalls, are some of the main problems. Moreover, neoliberalism continues to be applied all over the world, mainly using austerity measures against the majority of the population in order to justify economic "balance."

Meanwhile, “those who are most in need of action that promotes their health, persons with psychosocial, cognitive and intellectual disabilities, are still being left behind,” the experts conclude. 

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