Mental Health included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Promoting mental health and well-being, and the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, are integral parts of the Sustainable Development Agenda to transform our world by 2030 adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015. This is recognition of the importance of these areas of health within global development and health priorities.

For the first time, world leaders are recognizing the promotion of mental health and well-being, and the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, as health priorities within the global development agenda. The inclusion of mental health and substance abuse in the Sustainable Development Agenda, which was adopted at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, is likely to have a positive impact on communities and countries where millions of people will receive much needed help.

Welcoming the bold plan of action for people, the planet and prosperity, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “The new agenda is a promise by leaders to all people everywhere. It is a universal, integrated and transformative vision for a better world.”

This better world is envisioned in the declaration as a place “where physical, mental and social well-being are assured” in keeping with the WHO definition of health. Specifically, goal 3 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) focuses on ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages. World leaders have committed to “prevention and treatment of noncommunicable diseases, including behavioural, developmental and neurological disorders, which constitute a major challenge for sustainable development”.

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan has said: “The inclusion of noncommunicable diseases under the health goal is a historical turning point. Finally these diseases are getting the attention they deserve. Through their 169 interactive and synergistic targets, the SDGs seek to move the world towards greater fairness that leaves no one behind.”

Within the health goal, two targets are directly related to mental health and substance abuse. Target 3.4 requests that countries: “By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from noncommunicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being.” Target 3.5 requests that countries: “Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol.”

The adoption of the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan in 2013 and the Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol in 2010 by the World Health Assembly paved the way for the inclusion of mental health and substance abuse in the SDGs. Together, they are likely to have a large impact on communities and countries.

Mental health and substance abuse are very poorly resourced at present. Through the SDGs they are likely to become part of country development plans and of bilateral and multilateral development assistance. This could well mean that millions of people will finally receive much needed help.