Mental health problems are global, with young people especially vulnerable

Children are particularly vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as their trauma often lasts long after a conflict has ended, says Ambassador Geert Muylle, permanent representative of Belgium to the UN in Geneva.

Muylle, vice president of the UN Human Rights Council, was speaking at a 5 October World Mental Health Day event titled, "International campaign: breaking the chains of stigma in mental health; restoring human dignity for persons with mental illness."

The event was held at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva and sponsored by Frascarita International, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Fondation d'Harcourt and the Belgium government.

"Mental health disorders are a global development issue," said the ambassador. "It is estimated that 10 percent of the world's population, including 20 percent of children and adolescents, suffer from some sort of mental disorder."

"Young people, who represent our world's future, are especially at risk of a whole range of mental-health conditions as they transition from childhood to adulthood."

He said although mental health disorders affect both high- and low-resource countries they are particularly critical in settings of conflict and violence.

Dainius Pūras, the UN special rapporteur on the right to health, said concerns remain about misuse and abuse of psychiatry that have different historical legacies in regions and sub-regions.

Pūras noted, "An unacceptably high number of children and adults with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities are living in large residential institutions."

Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC associate general secretary, said, "The faith communities and institutions stay with and accompany the communities through thick and thin. They have done so, through the centuries."

She stressed that the work of churches and faith communities is vital, whether it is to support communities facing natural disasters, rebuilding after conflicts, or preventing and coping with violence.

"The WCC and its ecumenical partners have historically and currently are committed to serve the mental wellbeing of the people and communities regardless of their religion," said Phiri.

"In addition to the community-level accompaniment of the people in need, our members and our healthcare networks provide a substantial proportion of the healthcare needs in the neediest parts of the world," she said.

Dr René Stockman, general superior of the Brothers of Charity and president of Fracarita International, detailed how the brothers have pioneered in the field of mental health since 1815. That was when, "the first Brothers of Charity 'broke the chains' of the psychiatric patients who were imprisoned" in Ghent.

They started in Belgium with mental health services and now the Brothers of Charity are in 30 countries with more than 150 projects in the field of mental health, education and disability care.

"Breaking the chains remains our task…breaking the chains of iron, but also the chains of stigmatization, the chains of exclusion and discrimination, the chains of all kinds of addiction," says Stockman.

World Council of Churches website

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