WASHINGTON - Mental illness and drug abuse can wreak havoc in global societies and economies, and the UN General Assembly should devote a special session to the matter, global health experts said on Tuesday.
Every country in the world is affected by the burden of mental, neurological and substance use (MNS) disorders, but often sufferers face discrimination and human rights abuse, said the article in PLoS Medicine.
"The time has come for recognition at the highest levels of global development, namely the UN General Assembly, of the urgent need for a global strategy to address the global burden of MNS disorders," said the article.
Lead authors were Vikram Patel from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Judith Bass from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in the United States.
Investment is needed in three key areas, they argued: expanding knowledge about mental health disorders, better access to evidence-based programs of care and treatment, and protection of human rights.
A list of key needs to be addressed and steps to take could be enshrined in a "People's Charter for Mental Health" accounting for input from policy makers, families, researchers and other advocates.
The article said neuropsychiatric disorders will account for the loss of some $16.1 trillion US dollars (S$20.64 trillion) globally over the next two decades, with "dramatic impacts on productivity and quality of life," particularly as the population ages.
About 25 million people have dementia worldwide, a number set to skyrocket to 80 million by 2040, with close to three quarters of dementia patients concentrated in low and middle income countries.
Meanwhile, suicide claims at least one million lives per year and nearly four per cent of all deaths around the world are attributable to alcohol.
Mental illness can also boost risky behaviors that result in disease.
"Depressive disorders markedly increase the risk for noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, coronary artery disease, stroke, and dementia," said the article.
"Conflict, displacement, poverty, gender-based violence, and other social determinants of ill health increase the risk for MNS disorders," it added.
"MNS disorders are, in turn, associated with worsening of social and economic circumstances, setting up a vicious cycle of poverty and illness."
A majority of world governments would have to agree that the issue is important enough that it deserves a special session at the UN General Assembly.
"The fact that MNS disorders affect people in all countries should offer considerable incentive for investments by both public and private sectors in this initiative," the authors wrote.