MANILA, 13 October 2011-The World Health Organization (WHO) today called for stronger political commitment to address mental health problems, including increasing investments for mental health.

Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director the Western Pacific, reported to the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, WHO's governing body in the Region, on the progress addressing mental health concerns in the Region. The Regional Committee is meeting in Manila from 10 to 14 October to review WHO's work in the Region.

There has been no substantial progress in mental health care in low- and middle-income countries in the last decade despite the high rates of depression and suicide as well as growing number of cases of Alzheimer's disease due to ageing populations in many countries, Dr Shin told the Regional Committee.

Financial and human resources allocated for mental health are inadequate, especially in low-resource countries. The majority of low- and middle-income countries spend less than 2% of their health budgets on mental health.

"Barriers still exist that prevent the successful implementation of mental health programmes," said Dr Shin. "It is therefore important to motivate and empower health professionals to provide much-needed mental health services."

"Unfortunately, the perception of mental illness is often still associated with images of violence, sin and laziness," said Dr Shin. "Most general health workers are also unfamiliar with modern methods of treatment for mental illness and often do not have the necessary skills to deal with patients."

An estimated 100 million people in the Western Pacific Region suffer from mental and neurological disorders. Surveys estimate that at least 2% of the population suffer from the most severe forms of mental disorder, including schizophrenia, dementia, severe mental retardation and the consequence of brain injuries. Less severe but still disabling conditions-depressive disorders, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders-affect a further 3% to 4% of the population.

In addition, the number of cases of dementia is expected to increase substantially with a growing ageing population, particularly in the Western Pacific Region. Global statistics indicate that in 2010, 36 million people lived with dementia. This number is expected to rise to 66 million by 2030. Two thirds of the increase will occur in low- and middle-income countries.

With substantial cost to health and social systems and to families, the Regional Committee called on WHO to support Member States in developing plans for dealing with the emerging need for long-term care and focus on supporting family caregivers through networks of caregiver nongovernmental organizations.