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mental health action plan how has mental health changed over time future of mental health how has the treatment of mental illness changed world health organisation mental health

WHO mental health action plan: What is the future of mental health?

Published Apr 28, 2023 | Updated Feb 8, 2024

WHO mental health action plan: What is the future of mental health?

Having a sound mental health is a basic necessity of life. The World Health Organisation defines mental health as, “a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community.” [1]. It recognizes mental health as a basic human right. With 1 in 6 people in the UK (16+) having mental health issues, much more can be done to improve mental health conditions [2]

How has mental health changed over time?

Mental health treatments have come a long way. Since ancient history until the late 1700s, the mentally ill were incorrectly treated [3]. Their treatment was limited to religious ceremonies and confinement in asylums as opposed to treating the root cause. So how has the treatment of mental illness changed over time? With the emergence of evidence-based treatments, those with mental health issues have access to the right medications and therapies that have treated millions of people. However, owing to many factors like social taboo and lack/delay in diagnosis and seeking help, mental health issues are still a healthcare area needing major improvements. In an attempt to tackle this, the World Health Organisation mental health action plan was established in 2013. In 2019, the plan was extended till 2030 and adopted by 194 countries. Its been 75 years since the establishment of WHO. With different emerging priorities each year, WHO has now turned its focus towards a global resolution of mental health issues.

WHO and it’s 17 years of mental health goals.

The WHO Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2030 [4] establishes clear action plans for its member countries to promote and provide mental health for all. The plan aims to prevent mental health conditions in those susceptible and to provide mental health services to everyone who needs them. This plan has 4 main objectives for the member states:

  1. To provide effective leadership for mental health conditions
  2. To provide mental health services in community settings
  3. To implement social strategies to promote mental health
  4. To strengthen research and evidence base

In order to achieve these objectives, WHO has set detailed global targets along with implementation and assessment strategies. The global targets are set for 80% of countries to achieve goals by 2030. Some of these goals include:

1. Integrate mental health into primary health care.

The plan aims to provide mental health services at a primary level for easier access to all individuals. This will involve provision of pharmacological and psychosocial therapies. In addition, training and supervision of healthcare professionals is to be conducted to deliver excellent quality of care. The use of mobile and electronic health technology will be widely incorporated to improve mental health. The NHS is on the right track in this aspect, starting the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme in 2008. This was further reinforced in 2023, with IAPT renamed as “NHS Talking Therapies, for Depression and Anxiety.” with a focus on self-help and talking therapies to increase accessibility. With almost 2 million people being referred by 2022, this is a promising start [2]. To increase outreach, self-referral is accommodated. These services can be accessed through this link.

2. Double the number of community-based mental health facilities.

The aim of doubling the number of community-based mental health facilities was to support people with self-management. WHO encourages a recovery-based approach where people with mental health issues are equipped with skills to achieve their goals. These community programs are designed to help improve access to education, employment, and other fulfilling aspects of life. In the UK, charities like MIND charity have community mental health programs, along with residential care and crisis lines. You can read more about it here.

3. Implement 2 mental health promotion and prevention programmes.

WHO aims to reach out to all population groups, including healthy individuals. To increase outreach towards larger groups, it is essential to develop and promote mental health programmes. WHO’s target is for 80% of the countries to implement 2 mental health promotion and prevention programmes at a governmental level. These programmes must be the source of protective factors for all life stages, especially with up to 50% of the mental disorders starting before the age of 14 [4]. These programmes should be the voice of sound evidence and a source of right information. Bloom [5] is one such programme in the UK. It is the largest mental health programmed for 14–18-year-olds, being implemented in educational institutions. It is free and has helped over 200,000 adolescents. You can read more about it here

The WHO Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2030 is a promising step in the right direction towards a brighter future for mental health. 


  1. World Health Organisation (2022). Mental health. [online] World Health Organization. 
  2. Baker, C. and Kirk-Wade, E. (2021). Mental health statistics for England: prevalence, services and funding. [online] 
  3. OpenStaxCollege (2014). Mental Health Treatment: Past and Present.
  4. World Health Organisation (2021). Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013 - 2030
  5. Mental Health UK. (2019). Bloom - Mental Health UK. [online] 

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