Pick community-based mental health care over institutional care, WHO says

Mathari National Teaching and Referral Hospital. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Countries in the WHO South-East Asia Region have been urged by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to give community-based mental health care priority over long-term institutional mental health services.

The goal of this shift is to guarantee that mental health services are equal, accessible and stigma-free so that those who are impacted can live fulfilling lives.

Ms Saima Wazed, Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia, emphasised the benefits of transitioning to community-based care in her virtual address to the regional meeting on ‘Transitioning from long-stay services to community mental health networks.’ 

“Transitioning from long-stay tertiary psychiatric institutions to community-based care is beneficial for both individuals and society at large. When these services are integrated into the fabric of our communities, it becomes easier for individuals to seek help without the fear of judgement or discrimination. This shift also allows for greater personal autonomy, improved quality of life and personalised care options,” says Ms Saima Wazed.

“The community-based settings provide individuals with opportunities to regain a sense of independence and engage in social and vocational activities, which can significantly improve their overall well-being,” she says.

An estimated 13 per cent of people in the WHO South-East Asia Region are estimated to have mental health disorders and up to 95 per cent of them do not receive proper treatment. Throughout the region, there is still insufficient funding for mental health services, despite these concerning statistics.

To address these challenges, the Regional Director released a report on ‘Deinstitutionalization of people with mental health conditions in the WHO South-East Asia Region,’ offering adaptable recommendations tailored to local realities.

As Regional Director, Ms Wazed has made mental health a top priority and is a champion for the cause.  

“This report can serve as a catalyst for change, igniting a process that results in every person leading a life of dignity, purpose and fulfilment,” she says.

Long-stay mental health institutions, including psychiatric hospitals and asylums, are often characterised by ineffective treatment, segregation, poor living conditions and overcrowding. The shift to community-based care is a reflection of improving knowledge, advances in therapy and appreciation of human rights and dignity.