Young man suffering of mental health disorders

Understanding: the Key to Mental Health

Being young is usually thought of as an enviable time, full of promise and choices with little responsibility, but it can also be a deeply unsettling stage in life, with bullying, anxiety, peer pressure and puberty all to contend with. 

“Half of mental health disorders begin before age 14”1

Adolescence is a particularly sensitive time. During this stage, the brain is maturing and that makes teenagers particularly sensitive to what’s going on, day-to-day, and the environment around them. It is a time of huge change such as leaving home, going to university or starting a job, all of which can be stressful and lead to forms of depression, chronic anxieties or problems such as schizophrenia, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders, post-traumatic stress, eating conditions (bulimia, anorexia, etc.), or personality disorders (paranoia, addictions, etc). 

Many adolescents live in areas affected by humanitarian emergencies, whether they are conflicts, natural disasters or epidemics and are subject to stress with the same effects on their mental health. WHO estimates that nearly 20% of Gaza's population suffers from a range of mental health problems, following the conflict in the summer of 2014.

Adolescence is not, however, the only time when our mental health can be affected. According to the WHO, one in four people will have a mental disorder – whether behavioral or psychological, such as anorexia, phobias and anxiety – in their lifetime, and one in six will have a neurological disease (affecting the brain, spinal cord and the nervous system, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and epilepsy). 

Mental disorders are a global public health issue

Mental illnesses represent nearly 12% of the global disease burden and, by 2020 will be responsible for almost 15% of the loss of life years corrected for disability (the sum of lost years due to premature mortality and years lost due to the disability for incident cases of the disease or injury)2. Depression will actually be the second leading cause of disability and premature death, after coronary heart disease. In developing countries, these disorders may even increase disproportionately in the coming decades due to rapid urbanization, conflicts, and disasters.

Figures alone cannot account for the pain and suffering caused by mental disorders. People who are affected often have to struggle every day to adapt to their environment, to avoid being labeled or stigmatized, as is often the case in developing countries where people suffer most from social exclusion and prejudice.

One of the barriers to social integration is the absence of care, or lack of access to proper care. It has long been thought that only psychiatric hospitals can treat people with mental disorders, including people with mild disorders. Today, we know that these specialized institutions should be reserved for the most severe cases. During adolescence, some disorders, even the most difficult, can be transitory, so it’s not a question of making a definitive diagnosis but more about preventing a situation deteriorating or getting worse as quickly as possible. For this, it is important to know where to seek help quickly and, if necessary, to begin treatment as soon as possible.

Sanofi's commitment in developing countries

Today, 45% of the world's population lives in a country where there is less than one psychiatrist to serve 100,000 people. Africa has around 1,200 psychiatrists and 12,000 psychiatric nurses for a population of 620 million.

Sanofi was one of the first health companies to commit to improving access to mental health care in developing countries. Through the Fight Against STigma (FAST) program, as well as through a partnership with the Institute of Epidemiology and Tropical Neurology (IENT - UMR 1094 Inserm) of the University of Limoges, Sanofi launched programs in more than 20 countries in Africa, Asia and South America. Developed with local health authorities and experts, health professionals, patient organizations and NGOs, these programs aim to increase access to care for patients with mental disorders or epilepsy. Through these initiatives, thousands of previously neglected and excluded patients are able to seek medical help and treatment so that they can return to living normally with their families.

Focus on Myanmar

Sanofi partnered with the Myanmar Medical Association to develop and implement a three-year pilot program, which combines an integrated approach at the community level - leveraging existing staff and resources - with the use of new technologies (smartphone, tablet, telemedicine) to improve access to mental health care in Myanmar. The goal of the program is to reduce the treatment gap for psychotic disorders (including schizophrenia), major depressive disorders and epilepsy by 20% in 24 months at Hlaing Thar Yar, a densely populated township in Western Yangon.

Discover the story of Daw Tint. Thanks to the training provided to her local doctor and community health worker, Daw’s last psychotic episode was identified and managed early, enabling her to avoid hospitalization and stay with her family: 

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