Global Mental Health and Unreached People Groups

 Mental disorders are a vastly overlooked area in considering our responsibilities and opportunities as the church. How do mental disorders affect those in Unreached People Groups–and other vulnerable groups? Let’s consider this quote first for some of the current and future global context.

“But the world is not so happy a place. Billions of people suffer impoverishment, many until the end of their miserable lives…[Such things] should not deter us from responding as best we can, using our talents to improve this always mixed record of trying “to save generations from the scourge of war,” “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights,” and to promote “social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.” The question is, can we do it?”  (pp. 279, 289) Paul Kennedy, The Parliament of Man: The Past, Present, and Future of the United Nations (2006).

 Crossing sectors—especially connecting and contributing to the humanitarian, international health, and human resource sectors—is a key way for equipping the diversity of people in mission/aid with additional understanding and skills.  Being a “sector-connector” enhances one’s work in “God’s Global Office,” stretching mission thinking and involvement. One key area in the international health sector is global mental health (GMH) whihc seeks to promote human wellbeing and equity to access quality mental health resouces. Why is GMH especially relevant for mission/aid inlcuding those working in member care? The answere is that it can provide additional mental health resources to support mission/aid workers, vulnerable populations such as the world’s poor, and those affected by conflict/calamity.

We note especially that a major number of the world’s poor are in fact part of UPGs and that there is a dearth of mental health resources available for them via government health programs, NGO development initiatives, and church-mission ministries.  “Mental health as mission” is thus an important  approach for which to advocate and pioneer.

In short, crossing sectors and understanding mission broadly to include mental health ministry can open the doors to “new treasures” for enriching our work in member care and mission/aid (MT 13:52). Have a look at these statistics as well as the resources below from the World Health Organization.

 Global Mental Health Statistics: “Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” World Health Organization, October 2009

 According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental, neurological, and substance use disorders “are common in all regions of the world, affecting every community and age group across all income countries. While 14% of the global burden of disease is attributed to these disorders, most of the people affected—75% in many low-income countries—do not have access to the treatment they need.” (WHO, launch of the mhGAP program,

In addition, “people with these disorders are often subjected to social isolation, poor quality of life and increased mortality. These disorders are the cause of staggering economic and social costs.” (WHO Department of Mental Health, The Bare Facts

 World Health Organization, 2002:

• over 150 million have depression

• 25 million have schizophrenia

• 50 million have epilepsy

• over 100 million have drug or alcohol use disorders

• over 700 million suicides/year

See the 12 case studies in the WHO special report on how mental health has been integrated into primary health care systems in different countries (e.g., India, Iran, South Africa, Brazil). The report also outlines skills needed to help people with mental disorders.

 Short Video Example: Got five minutes? Be sure to have a look at this inspiring short video clip from the Banyan Tree in Chennai, India. It is a practical example of helping those with mental conditions and help them reintegrate meaningfully into their communities. It will put human faces on the statistics below. “The Banyan works for the cause of homeless persons with mental illness.