Public policy is the mission of a government. This chapter aims to discuss the relevant aspects of public policy which both have a direct influence on mental health and mental disorders, and an indirect effect by influencing environmental factors which influence mental health, and which will need to be considered by governments wishing to protect, promote, and improve the mental health of their populations. It draws on examples from relatively wealthy and low-income countries.

Mental disorders are common everywhere in the world and contribute to disability, mortality, loss of economic productivity, and poverty. (I,2) Furthermore, parental illness contributes to intellectual and emotional consequences for the next generation. (3) The presence of untreated mental disorders also influences the success of prevention and treatment programmes for physical illness such as malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, leprosy, and other infectious diseases.

If the public health burden of mental illness is to be tackled effectively, it is necessary for governments to adopt a strategic approach that encompasses much more than just curative services for acutely ill people.

While each country has special needs, problems, resource constraints, and challenges, there are nevertheless some consistent areas which national policy needs to address in all countries, however constrained that country is for resources, if it is to make most effective use of those resources to improve mental health. The overall goals of public policy on mental health generally include some or all of the following: (4)

• to promote mental health

• to prevent mental and neurological disorders

• to improve the health and social functioning of people with mental illness

• to deliver appropriate services for early detection, care, treatment, and rehabilitation

• to reduce the premature mortality of people with mental disorders

• to reduce stigma

• to protect the human rights and dignity of people with mental illness

• to promote the psychological aspects of general health care

• to engage in appropriate development of human resources

• to develop a programme of research to support the above aims.

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