Mental health is everyone’s responsibility: a senior official at the World Health Organization


As the WHO Regional Office for Europe convened the second meeting of the Pan-European Mental Health Alliance in the Turkish capital, Ankara, the organization’s senior official emphasized that “mental health is everyone’s business.”

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Dr. Natasha Azobardi-Muscat, Director of the Country Health Policies and Systems Department at the WHO Regional Office for Europe, said that the meeting is the first in-person meeting and “the alliance is an innovative meeting vehicle that we use within the WHO.”

“We’re not just working with member states. We’re also working with partners from academia and NGOs. We’re also bringing in people with lived experience… But also the second new element is that we’re breaking out of the traditional mentality of health sector actors,” she said. And we got engaged on a much larger scale.”

Pointing out that there are more than 150 organizations that have joined the coalition, Azobardi Muscat said that there are new organizations seeking to join it every day.

“Because I believe that in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, people have recognized the importance of mental health and well-being. We have brought it out of the shadows, and we are succeeding in bringing it to the attention of the highest levels of government now that offices of presidents, prime ministers, and actors outside the health sector all understand that mental health and mental health issues are a business.” everybody “.

With the United Nations proclaiming November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Azoupardi Muscat stressed that there are still too many cases of violence against women.

She added, “We continue to see far too many cases of violence against women, sometimes reaching a peak in lives. Women who experience sexual and intimate partner violence are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.” .

“It’s time to focus” on violence against women

Stressing that sexual violence against women is not only a “public health concern,” she also said it is “a clinical concern, and an economic and social concern that must be taken seriously.”

“Unfortunately, during the (COVID-19) pandemic, we have seen that the number of cases related to intimate partner violence have continued to rise, and this is undoing the successes we have had in recent years in this area. It is really time to focus.”

Dr Azoupardi-Muscat noted the need to ensure that “girls and young women are trained to recognize the signs and also be able to protect themselves from the very early signs” of such violence.

She added that healthcare professionals need to be trained, to be alerted to the signs as “sometimes the signs and symptoms can be a little disguised because again, there is a stigma attached to advertising domestic violence, intimate partner violence.”

“As WHO, we continue to put this high on the agenda by working to advance this issue at the highest levels of leadership… We have a special focus and lens on sexual violence against women in conflict and emergencies. We also have training programs for healthcare professionals who We work with them through our country office.”

Asked about expectations of a rapid increase in dementia by 2050, she said: “The European region is the fastest aging region out of the six WHO regions.”

She warned that the number of dementia cases would rise, which she said was indirectly due to “the region’s success in extending life”.

She pointed out that “prolonging life alone is not enough.”

Listing steps that can be taken to prevent or delay the onset of dementia, the WHO official said, “We know that increasing physical activity, not smoking, and reducing alcohol consumption are all factors that can actually prevent and delay dementia. Cut it to raise awareness of the fact that dementia can also be prevented.”

She also stressed that dementia is one area “where there is still a huge unmet clinical need” and “so we need to invest to ensure there is adequate research and innovation in terms of treatment but also in terms of the management and support that can be given so that people with dementia do not suffer at all.” are less free from stigma and discrimination and can live as comfortable, safe and dignified a life as possible.”

Child and adolescent mental health

Dr. Azopardi-Muscat also mentioned that there are special mentions made regarding mental health concerns for children and adolescents.

“Unfortunately, a number of countries are seeing an increase in the prevalence of anxiety, depression and sometimes suicide among children and adolescents. I think this is a really urgent area that requires concerted action,” she said.

With regard to the elderly, she said that they suffer from isolation and loneliness, which then leads to depression.

In the coming years, she said, “one of the biggest challenges will undoubtedly be the presence of a health workforce. We have a shortage of health care workers in general, globally and in the European region as well.”

“A workforce that is aging, a workforce that sometimes migrates to rich countries, a workforce that is also exhausted by the pressures of the last three years. And when we move into the mental health workforce and start looking at the need and the demand and the resources we have, there is going to be a mismatch,” she warned. big “.

She also said that health workers who suffer from anxiety, stress and burnout are afraid to speak up and ask for help.

“That’s the first barrier – overcoming stigma and being able to say it’s okay to be unwell and to be able to ask for help,” she emphasized.

She said they work with countries around the world like the Mental Health Alliance and that they are “breaking down stereotypes, seeing that all countries can learn from each other”.

She added, “It’s not just small learning from big or big learning from small or poor countries from rich and more developed countries. There are lessons that can be learned from everywhere.”

It also praised Turkey’s efforts to “support the development of community services and make progress in deinstitutionalization.”

“In my view, we can count on Turkey as a partner that is truly committed to putting mental health at the top of the agenda and following that up by working to ensure that the health services that are available are really available and quality services for those people who need them.”
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