International Federation of Social Workers calls for greater equality in mental health

On World Mental Health Day (10 October) the global body for the profession highlighted the theme of ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’.

08/10/21

International Federation of Social Workers calls for greater equality in mental health

The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) has called for greater equality in mental health for World Mental Health Day, Sunday 10 October.

The event, started by the Mental Health foundation and recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), this year has the theme 'Mental Health in an Unequal World'.

Writing in a blog, Bruno Keel, the IFSW’s representative to the United Nations (UN), warned that the world is becoming more polarized.

“Poverty levels are on the rise again. Inequalities based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., are becoming increasingly more apparent,” Keel said. “Experiencing these types of discrimination can often have a negative impact on a person’s mental health, it can weaken social cohesion and excludes people.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO, says mental health is still considered a secondary thought when compared to physical ailments.

Releasing the WHO’s report ‘Mental Health Atlas’, Dr Tedros says the findings paint a disappointing picture of a worldwide failure to provide people with the mental health services they need, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting a growing need for mental health support.

The latest edition of the Atlas, which includes data from 171 countries, also indicates that the increased attention given to mental health in recent years has yet to result in a scale-up of quality mental services that is aligned with needs.

“It is extremely concerning that, despite the evident and increasing need for mental health services, which has become even more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic, good intentions are not being met with investment,” said Dr Tedros. “We must heed and act on this wake-up call and dramatically accelerate the scale-up of investment in mental health, because there is no health without mental health.”

Bruno Keel says that social workers are particularly aware of these inequalities.

“They support efforts worldwide to ensure that the mentally ill can exercise equal political and social rights and participate in normal life as full citizens. Whenever possible, social workers want to enable people to live in their traditional environment, e.g. by expanding easily accessible community-based or home-based health services. Through community work, neighbourhood work in cities, promotion of self-help groups or individual counselling, they help people with mental illnesses to organize their everyday lives in a self-determined way.”

“Social workers pay particular attention to social stressors and to the social determinants of health, such as educational opportunities, housing, job opportunities, financial resources, social contacts, and support services in the immediate environment. If we succeed in reducing the level of social stress or inequality in one or more areas of life, it has a relaxing effect, and promotes recovery processes, feelings of belonging, and togetherness. Often, social work interventions are cross-sectoral, as people with a mental health impairment face challenges in a variety of settings in their daily lives.

“Depending on the problem, social workers try to build bridges between the social, health, economic, judicial, and educational systems. Further, through political influence, they promote developments that create environments and communities in which people with mental illness can feel equal and regain control of their lives.”

Read the WHO’s full ‘Mental Health Atlas’: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240036703/

Find out more about World Mental Health Day 2021: https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-mental-health-day/2021

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