This year’s WHO ATLAS report paints a picture of widespread failure. The targets set for 2020 have largely been missed, and the international community has failed to provide citizens with the mental health services they need. This failure the WHO warned is especially concerning considering the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent worldwide growing need for quality mental health support and prevention policy.

Disappointing worldwide figures reveal that a lack of drive and investment has produced a wide miss for WHO mental health targets

None of the 2020 targets for leadership and governance, provision of mental health services in local communities, or the strengthening of information systems, we're close to being achieved after being determined seven years prior in 2013.

Only 51% of the WHO’s 194 Member States had their 2020 mental health policy in line with international and regional human rights commitments, vastly short of the WHO’s 80% target. And only 52% of countries met the mental health promotion and prevention programme targets, also well below the 80% standard.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, expressed his concern at the report’s findings: “Despite the evident and increasing need for mental health services, which has become even more acute during the Covid-19 pandemic, good intentions are not being met with investment.”

"We must heed and act on this wake-up call and dramatically accelerate the scale-up of investment in mental health because there is no health without mental health."

Additionally, despite the WHO long recommending that there needs to be a systemic decentralisation of mental health care into community settings, only 25% of countries met the criteria for successful integration of mental health into primary care.

In a statement, the WHO said that the singular target that was met was the reduction in the rates of suicide by 10%, but frustratingly, only 35 countries had a stand-alone prevention strategy and policy implementation for that aim.

The WHO also highlighted more encouraging figures that show an increase in the global median number of mental health workers per 100,000 of the population. Statistical analysis shows that overall, the ratio has increased collectively from nine to thirteen workers per 100,000 people. However, the WHO cautioned that there is an extremely high variation between member countries of different income levels. For example, some high-income countries have more than 40 times the rate of mental health workers than others.

New prospects for this decade – will governments around the world learn lessons from the Covid-19 mental health crisis?

The global targets detailed in the Mental Health Atlas are from WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan for 2020. The Plan has now been extended to 2030 and includes new targets inspired by the lessons of the pandemic; these include:

  • The inclusion of mental health and psychosocial support in emergence preparedness plans.
  • The integration of mental health into primary health care.
  • An increase in investment in mental health research.

Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use at WHO: “The new data from the Mental Health Atlas shows us that we still have a very long way to go in making sure that everyone, everywhere, has access to quality mental health care.”

"But I am encouraged by the renewed vigour that we saw from governments as the new targets for 2030 were discussed and agreed and am confident that together we can do what is necessary to move from baby steps to giant leaps forward in the next ten years."