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Last week the World Health Organization (WHO) released its 2014 Atlas Report, a project of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse designed to gather and disseminate global data on mental health resources in the world. The project utilizes data about mental health policies and plans, finances, and other information systems, to formulate a comprehensive snapshot of global mental health.

This data can help us to see the progress we have made worldwide to reduce stigma and increase access to mental health care, and can also inform the next steps that need to be made to enhance the resources that are available.

Mental illness is a global problem affecting nearly 1 in 10 citizens, yet only 1% of the global health workforce is dedicated to mental health. “This means that nearly half of the world’s population lives in a country where there is less than one psychiatrist per 100,000 people.” The data from the 2014 Atlas shows disparities in access to care based on where people live. Low and middle income countries saw a rate of 1 per 100,000, while for higher income countries this rate dropped significantly to 1 per 2,000 people.

The report also examines mental health spending. Low and middle income countries spend just $2 per person on mental health compared with high income countries which spend more than $50 per person. The other part of this spending issue is that the majority of the money is going toward mental hospitals, which only serve a very small percentage of those who need mental health care.

While these and other areas such as training for mental health professionals still leaves much room for improvement, one area of decided progress from the Atlas is the creation of policies, plans and laws for mental health which provide a solid foundation for improved service development. Currently, two-thirds of countries have a policy or plan for mental health and half have a mental health law.

Looking ahead, WHO launched the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan (2013-2020) with the objectives of “strengthening leadership and governance for mental health; providing comprehensive mental health and social care services in community-based settings; implementing strategies to promote and prevent mental health; and strengthening information systems, evidence and research.”

We are tied together in a global effort to improve access to care for all citizens. Focusing on narrowing the gap in access for low and middle class income countries, strengthening implementation of national mental health plans and strategies, and increasing spending on community resources are all important areas to improve upon in order to better global mental health.