Mental, neurological and substance use (MNS) disorders account for 10 percent of global diseases, according to a World Bank Group report.

These issues result in numerous negative impacts, not only to individuals and families, but also on societies.

For example, “an estimated 60 percent of suicide deaths can be re-attributed to mental and substance abuse disorders.”

MNS is particularly harmful to children whose parents suffer from a disorder, “contributing to the intergenerational transmission of ill-health and poverty.”

In addition, the global economic impact of MNS due to lost years of work productivity “was $8.5 trillion in 2010, a sum expected to nearly double by 2030.”

Even so, these issues “have been systematically neglected in most of the world, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), with pitifully small contributions to prevention and treatment by governments and development agencies.”

Five social elements are often connected to MNS:

  1. Demographic factors: such as age, gender and ethnicity.
  2. Socioeconomic status: low income, unemployment, income inequality, low education and low social support.
  3. Neighborhood factors: inadequate housing, overcrowding, neighborhood violence.
  4. Environmental events: natural disasters, war, conflict, climate change and migration.
  5. Social change associated with changes in income, urbanization and environmental degradation.

The positive impact of religion in helping to address MNS was highlighted.

“The protective value of religion and spirituality probably arises in part from providing access to a socially cohesive and supportive community,” the report noted. “Islam and Christianity, and specifically Catholicism, prohibit the taking of one’s own life, and this prohibition can have a strong inhibitory effect on suicidal behavior.”

Similarly, “Adherence to a religious congregation or group often carries with it an expectation of mutual help to stop drinking. In many social groups in Latin America and the Caribbean, joining a Protestant sect has often been a way out of socio-cultural expectations of heavy drinking, particularly for men.”

Rehabilitative models, such as the faith-based Alcoholics Anonymous, were said to be effective in addressing MNS disorders for those “who remain in treatment for at least three months.”

Faith-based organizations, as well as traditional healers, that serve as informal healthcare providers were noted as an important “initial pathway to care” in portions of Asia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Traditional healers are diverse and encompass a wide range of practitioners – herbalists, spirit mediums, diviners and faith healers.

These avenues are “typically very accessible and more acceptable because they are integral members of the local community,” the report said. “It is imperative that primary health and other formal care services establish strong links with informal health care providers … as they provide accessible, acceptable and affordable care, and efforts need to be made to ensure that their practices do not harm the patients.”

A 2014 household survey conducted in South Africa calls into question the claim that traditional healers are a widely used “initial pathway to care.”

Sixty-nine percent of South Africans reported seeking healthcare in public clinics and hospitals, while only 0.5 percent cited a traditional healer as their first healthcare contact.

The full World Bank report can be accessed here.

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