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Why the New World Health Organization Guidelines for Mental Health Care Are Important

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Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued new guidance addressing mental health care. While mental health care currently resides in psychiatric hospitals and relies heavily on medication-based treatment, the new guidance focuses on a more human-centered approach. In many psychiatric hospital settings, human rights violations are a concern where coercion is present, but switching to a human-rights and person-centered approach would give individuals more say in their treatment while focusing on all aspects of their situation by way of holistic care.

My firsthand experiences in psychiatric hospitals have been heavily medication-based, but I have also experienced a more rounded approach with the addition of various therapies and multiple-step downs in care such as partial hospitalizations and intensive outpatient care. With the WHO’s new guidelines, they are requesting that community mental health care be present apart from psychiatric hospitals so that individuals can receive help at any level of need.

Previously, many individuals would have to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital to be evaluated for care before receiving treatment, but with the WHO’s new guidelines, mental health care would become a more community-based resource. By providing community care, individuals would be able to have more say in their care from a holistic perspective and medication would be an option or part of treatment rather than the main focus.

While many communities do already have some form of mental health care, this is not the case on a global level. By initiating change globally, WHO is seeking to create community mental health care that aims to be equal across the world.

Mental health care is ever-evolving, and while this new guidance isn’t a quick fix, it is a step in the right direction. Health care, in general, should be human-centered rather than coercive, and those with mental illness have been receiving subpar care for far too long. Mental health care shouldn’t begin at the crisis level, but much earlier to support individuals throughout their journey. Community mental health care might prove to be more accessible for those with mental illness, while also proving to be less intimidating than the process of being admitted into a psychiatric hospital.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed a light on mental health as more and more people find themselves struggling with stress, isolation, depression, anxiety and so much more. More access to virtual therapy and psychiatry sessions have already been introduced to make mental health care more accessible to individuals in the home, and this new light on mental health has led to this new guidance being introduced by WHO. We exist in a time where mental health is becoming less and less “taboo” and is becoming a part of everyday conversation. If we can continue to highlight the conversation on mental health and illness, we can continue to make mental health a community issue and increase the number of resources available to the public.

Personally, I am so thankful for the changes made in mental health care thus far because I am able to see my psychiatrist frequently over telehealth, and I was able to see my therapist over telehealth while offices were closed due to the pandemic. Now that I am able to see my therapist in person, I am seeing how many more resources are available to me in my recovery journey since mental health has become more of an issue. I am lucky enough to be in a situation where all of my mental health care needs are covered by my insurance, but I hope that more individuals will be able to receive reduced cost or completely covered mental health care as we move into a more community-centered approach.

The WHO’s new focus on community mental health care may make it possible for more individuals to access care at any level needed while encouraging equal care on the global level. I am thankful for how mental health has been highlighted throughout the pandemic, and I look forward to seeing the strides we make as the conversation continues.

Getty Images illustration via Muqamba

Originally published: June 21, 2021
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