Mental health policies in South-East Asia and the public health role of screening instruments for depression

WHO South East Asia J Public Health. 2017 Apr;6(1):5-11. doi: 10.4103/2224-3151.206165.


The World Health Organization (WHO) South-East Asia Region, which contributes one quarter of the world's population, has a significant burden due to mental illnesses. Mental health has been a low priority in most countries of the region. Although most of these countries have national mental health policies, implementation at ground level remains a huge challenge. Many countries in the region lack mental health legislation that can safeguard the rights of people with mental illnesses, and governments have allocated low budgets for mental health services. It is imperative that concerned authorities work towards scaling up both financial and human resources for effective delivery of mental health services. Policymakers should facilitate training in the field of mental health and aim towards integrating mental health services with primary health care, to reduce the treatment gap. Steps should also be taken to develop a robust mental health information system that can provide baseline information and insight about existing mental health services and help in prioritization of the mental health needs of the individual countries. Although evidence-based management protocols such as the WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) guidelines facilitate training and scaling up of care in resource-limited countries, the identification of mental disorders like depression in such settings remains a challenge. Development and validation of brief psychiatric screening instruments should be prioritized to support such models of care. This paper illustrates an approach towards the development of a new culturally adapted instrument to identify depression that has scope for wider use in the WHO South-East Asia Region.

MeSH terms

  • Asia, Southeastern
  • Cultural Competency
  • Depression / diagnosis*
  • Health Policy*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / instrumentation*
  • Mental Health Services / economics
  • Mental Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Public Health*