African Launch of the WPA-Lancet Commission: Time for United Action Against Depression

Nairobi, Kenya, 22 August 2022 

Depression is a primary cause of preventable suffering and premature mortality worldwide, yet it has received little policy attention. Most countries are not adequately equipped to cope with the burden of depression, not only due to long-standing inadequate-resourcing of mental health-care systems and a scarcity of qualified providers, but also due to the tight barriers that generally divide mental health expertise and mental health care from primary health care and community support sectors, as well as health policy from other relevant areas of public policy such as employment, education, welfare benefits, and migration. More significantly, depression is an obstacle to sustainable development in all regions, preventing individuals from realising their full potential, undermining human capital, and being linked to early death through suicide and other disorders.

The Lancet and World Psychiatric Association (WPA) Commission on Depression was formed to synthesize evidence from multiple contexts and develop action-oriented recommendations for a plethora of stakeholders, including communities and individuals afflicted by depression and their families; clinicians and public health practitioners; researchers who strive to comprehend as well as manage depression; as well as policymakers and health-care financiers.

To mark the African regional launch of the Lancet - World Psychiatric Association (WPA) Commission, The Brain and Mind Institute (BMI) in collaboration with The Lancet and WPA will be holding a pre-launch webinar on October 27 and the main launch on November 10, 2022.

Click on the images below to register for the webinars

​​​​​Pre-launch Webinar
October 27, 2022, 3 to 4.30 pm, EAT​

Main Webinar
November 10, 2022, 3 to 4.30 pm, EAT​

Reforming Mental Health Systems in Africa

Despite the fact that there are proven, effective treatments for mental diseases, more than 75% of people in low- and middle-income countries are neglected. There is less research conducted on mental health in Africa, and less done to prevent and relieve the suffering and difficulties associated with depression. As a result, few governments in the region recognise the impediment that depression poses on economic and social growth. In fact, mental disorders are frequently misdiagnosed and underreported, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The scarcity of research reflects the continent's few mental health facilities and the inability of many Africans and their governments to address the issue. According to the WHO's 2014 Mental Health Atlas study, 24% of countries did not have or had not implemented separate mental health policies; in Africa, this figure increased to 46%. The region has 14 mental health workers per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to a global average of 90 per 100,000, and also fares relatively low in terms of psychiatrists, hospital beds for patients with mental illness, and outpatient facility coverage. As a result, the number of Africans receiving treatment for mental health issues is exceedingly low, especially treatments for depression. The region’s dire need to address the accessibility of mental health interventions and services are increasing, as the population is growing and expected to triple in the next decade.

This is where the Lancet-WPA Commission can make its constructive impact in delivering a message of hope, through presenting concrete data regarding what can be implemented to prevent and treat depression, while also showing how such interventions may be incorporated into broader health and social systems and delivered even in the most underserved settings. The evidence points to a window of opportunity for worldwide collaboration to reform mental health-care systems. The research also supports a whole-of-society approach to depression prevention, which may be expected to provide similar advantages to preventative programmes in other sectors of medicine, such as heart disease and cancer.

United Action Against Depression

Although there is still much, we do not know about depression, for which we advocate a cutting-edge scientific agenda, there is also much we do know that is not being used effectively. As a result, investing in knowledge translation into practise is critical. There is a plethora of studies demonstrating the effectiveness of preventative and therapeutic interventions for depression. However, most communities in Africa do not benefit from this, and the vast majority of people affected by this illness do not receive these treatments due to a variety of demand and supply limitations.

The Lancet-WPA Commission’s multidisciplinary contributions and evidence synthesis across fields create a new focus on numerous facets of the depression experience. The heterogeneity of depression is described and justified, as is the universality of the experience while being impacted by culture and circumstance, the uniqueness of the experience for each person, the significance of acting early, and the concomitant need to develop and personalise care. The Commission emphasises the importance of looking beyond health care to determine what is needed throughout societies to decrease the burden of depression. To reflect on and advocate changes in policy, research, and practise, economic arguments are supported by data collected from clinical, scientific, and lived experiences.

An adequate response to depression will necessitate whole-of-society and whole-of-government engagement, with collaborative action to reduce adversity and strengthen protective factors, as well as engage with this private human experience in all of its complexities, and to ensure that people in need of help can have accessibility for assistance. Never before has such an ambitious agenda been more vital and necessary.​​