Ever since I was first lady of Georgia, and then of the United States, I have been concerned with the treatment of people with mental illnesses, the prevention of such illnesses, and the promotion of mental health. Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which individuals realize their own abilities, work productively, and are able to contribute to their communities. The absence of mental health adversely affects all aspects of life. World Mental Health: Problems and Priorities in Low-Income Countries, a two-year study by the Department of Social Medicine of Harvard Medical School with the assistance of more than 80 consultants from 19 countries, shows that depressive and anxiety disorders account for 20-30 percent of all primary care visits worldwide, and alcohol-related diseases affect 5-10 percent of the global population each year. Furthermore, poverty and economic stagnation, which both directly and indirectly impact on social and mental well-being, has affected an estimated one billion people, one-fifth of the world's population.The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) is working to raise awareness of these issues. WFMH is a nongovernmental organization in consultative status on mental health to the United Nations and its specialized agencies, such as the World Health Organization. I have enjoyed a long association with WFMH since attending its World Congress in 1977.
In 1992, to focus attention on the plight of those suffering from mental illnesses, WFMH designated October 10th as World Mental Health Day. The first celebration exceeded our expectations, and participation has grown tremendously each succeeding year. Public response has been so favorable that WFMH decided to make this day an annual event. Plans are well under way for this year's observance.
To increase awareness of this special day, WFMH created an International Committee of First Ladies for Mental Health, which I agreed to chair. To expand the scope of committee involvement to include not only first ladies but also women members of royal families and heads of state, we recently amended the name to International Committee of Women Leaders for Mental Health: In Partnership With The World Federation for Mental Health Consisting of Royalty, Heads of State, and First Ladies (see Committee list below). Working together with mental health leaders in our various countries provides us with a very important opportunity to produce positive change for our citizens who struggle with mental illnesses.
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