WORLD HEALTH PROFESSIONS ALLIANCE (WHPA)
JOINT STATEMENT ON MENTAL HEALTH
The International Council of Nurses (ICN)
International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP)
World Medical Association (WMA)
GENEVA, 15 May 2001 - The World Health Professions Alliance, speaking for more than 14 million
health care professionals world-wide, finds discrimination associated with the
mentally ill to be unethical and is calling for its eradication. Patients
with mental illness should be viewed, treated and have the same access to care
as any other patient.
Mental disorders represent more than 12% of the total burden
of disease. However, the true extent of the problem is difficult to measure.
Mental health problems tend to remain undiagnosed and unreported because of
stigma and exclusion. This stigma often discourages people in need from
seeking help, therefore aggravating their situation.
About 24% of patients who seek primary health care suffer
from some form of mental disorder. A majority of these patients (69%)
usually present to health personnel with physical symptoms; consequently, many
of them are not correctly diagnosed for mental illness and thus not treated.
In addition, in many countries health care providers are not prepared to address
the mental health needs of their patients. With proper training and supervision,
health professionals could become more competent in identifying and treating
Mental health is recognised as a speciality within the health
professions, but research shows that mental health problems are common in general
health care settings and have severe consequences for individuals and societies.
Since physical illness is often accompanied by a mental health problem, health
professionals must have the knowledge and skills to be able to respond to people's
mental health needs.
The condition of a patient with mental illness incapable
of exercising autonomy does not differ from that of any other legally incompetent
patient. They should be treated like any other patient who is temporarily
or permanently incompetent. A patient with mental illness, including psychosis,
should not automatically be considered to be legally incompetent. His/her
judgement should be respected in areas where he/she is capable of making decisions.
If the patient lacks the capacity to make a decision as to his/her medical care,
surrogate consent should be sought from an authorized representative in accordance
with applicable law.
Involuntary treatments should be used in the treatment of
a patient with mental illness only when he/she is in an acute state and may
pose a threat to himself/herself or others. Compulsory hospitalisation
should be considered to be exceptional and, therefore, utilized only when and
as long it is medically necessary.
Health professionals have a key role in promoting mental
health, preventing mental illness and improving access to mental health services.
They also have a role in educating the public and reducing stigma. Health
professionals need to focus on reducing the treatment gap of mental health disorders.
Advances have been made regarding new treatment and care, and on the causation,
associations, characteristics and prevention of mental health problems.
The benefits of this knowledge should reach all people with mental health problems,
particularly the vulnerable populations.
The World Health Professions Alliance brings
together medicine, nursing and pharmacy through their representative international
organisations, International Council of Nurses (ICN), International Pharmaceutical
Federation (FIP) and the World Medical Association (WMA) and represents
more than 20 million health professionals worldwide.
- The International
Council of Nurses (ICN) is a federation of 125 national nurses'
associations representing the millions of nurses worldwide. Operated
by nurses for nurses since 1899, ICN is the international voice of
nursing and works to ensure quality care for all and sound health policies
- The International Pharmaceutical
Federation (FIP) is the worldwide federation of national associations of pharmacists
and pharmaceutical scientists. Pharmacists are health care professionals
dedicated to improving access to and value of appropriate medicine use
- The World Medical Association (WMA) is a global federation of national medical
associations, representing the millions of physicians worldwide. Acting
on behalf of physicians and patients, the WMA endeavours to achieve the highest
possible standards of medical science, education, ethics and health care for
further information contact Linda Carrier-Walker Tel : +41 22 908
fax : +41 22 908 0101; email:
Web site www.icn.ch