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Achieving the millennium development goals: does mental health play a role?

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) practically define health efforts in the 21st century, but they virtually ignore non-communicable diseases such as mental health, say these authors. This is despite evidence that mental health disorders are among the most important cause of sickness and disability and even premature mortality. The authors argue that tackling mental health problems will be vital to achieving the MDGs, and three in particular — eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, and improving maternal health.

Poverty and hunger are well-recognised risk factors for mental health, but mental health also makes it harder for people to escape the hunger trap. Mothers who are depressed during pregnancy and post natally, are more likely to have underweight babies; not only that, the illness means these mothers are more likely to stop breastfeeding and less likely to ensure their children are properly immunised than mothers without depression.

The authors advocate that strengthening basic health-care systems should be holistic. For example, developing countries need more and better-trained health workers but they should not only know how to deliver babies but also how to counsel new mothers. HIV/AIDS programmes, as another example, should ensure that individuals not only have good access to antiretrovirals but also to treatment for depression if they need it.

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