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Wednesday, 13 October, 1999, 18:52 GMT 19:52 UK
Defending the rights of the mentally ill
Refugees from Iraq
Refugees often suffer mental health problems
Protecting the human rights of the 1,500m people around the world who suffer from mental health problems is the theme of this year's World Mental Health Day, which will be celebrated in over 100 countries across the globe.

Mental Health
Coordinated by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH), activities will range from campaigns to stop discrimination against the mentally ill to the effects of human rights abuses on mental health.

World Mental Health Day is on Saturday, but the day before a panel of human rights, education and mental health experts will address a meeting in New York on the subject of human rights education.

The event also celebrates the WFMH's 50th anniversary as well as the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

Those supporting it include the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and the Armenian American Society for Studies on Stress and Genocide.

Human rights abuse

The WFMH's Human Rights Committee has taken the lead in organising this year's events.

Its aims include the advocacy of human rights for people with mental illness, investigations into human rights abuses against the mentally ill and educating people about the likely mental health implications of human rights violations.

Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan: a vice-patron of the London symposium
At the end of October, the WFMH will hold a big symposium in London to celebrate its 50th birthday.

It was set up in 1948 in the Central Hall in Westminister.

The Queen is patron of the event and vice-patrons include Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The event will address regional perspectives on mental health and will include issues such as the effects of poverty and exile on mental health and the impact of the media.

Mental health worldwide

According to the United Nations, three quarters of the 1,500m people who suffer from mental illness at any given time are thought to come from developing countries.

Some 340m people suffer from depression or manic disorders. Depression is thought to account for 10% of all visits to primary care facilities.

In the US alone, depression costs around $44bn a year - about the same as the cost of treating heart disease.

Around 45m people in the world are thought to suffer from schizophrenia - more than 33m are from developing countries.

Symptoms include delusions and incoherent thoughts. Studies show a link between low income and schizophrenia.

World Health Organisation research suggests people in developing countries respond better to treatment than those in rich countries.


Another growing concern for mental health workers is the increase in cases of dementia, due to the ageing of the world's population.

Children in Sarajevo hospital
Sarajevo children treated for physical problems may face worse mental health problems
Dementia is characterised by progressive memory failure and confusion.

By 2025, it is estimated that the number of people suffering from senile dementia in Africa, Asia and Latin America will quadruple from 20m in 1990 to 80m.

In addition, the World Health Organisation says refugees are much more likely to suffer from psychological effects than physical effects.

It is putting more attention into the subject of human rights and mental health as a result.

It has set up models for dealing with the problem. In the former Yugoslavia, for example, it led the establishment of six regional projects offering counselling, conducting research and setting up training courses in post-traumatic stress disorder for local health workers.


In the UK, World Mental Health Day is being coordinated by the Health Education Authority. Its theme is discrimination and mental health.

Events around the country include exhibitions, a conference on stress in the countryside in Yorkshire, rock concerts and football matches.

Mind is supporting the day and is launching a leaflet, called How to stop worrying, which sets out different ways to stop worries spiralling into depression.

These include talking about worries, writing them down and taking practical steps to deal with them.

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