The United Nations General Assembly is holding a High-level Meeting on Disability and Development (HLMDD) with the overarching theme “The Way Forward: A Disability-Inclusive Development Agenda Towards 2015 and Beyond” on 23 September 2013.
In response, the United Nations University International Institute for Global Health (UNU-IIGH) and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations (UNDESA) have issued “Conclusions and Recommendations for Inclusion of Mental Well-being and Disability into Key Goals and Outcomes of Upcoming International Conferences”, as an outcome document of the United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Mental Well-being, Disability, and Development held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 29 April to 1 May 2013.
That meeting provided a critical opportunity to bring global attention to the situation of persons with mental and intellectual disabilities, who constitute one of the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups of the global population and, to date, remain largely invisible in mainstream development processes.
An estimated one in four persons globally will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Annually, approximately one million people die due to suicide, which is higher than the number of deaths related to war or murder. Among young people, suicide is the third-leading cause of death.
Depression is the largest single cause of disability worldwide (11 percent of all years lived with disability globally). Economic loss due to problems related to mental well-being is vast: A recent study estimated that the cumulative global impact of mental disorders, in terms of lost economic output, will amount to US$16.3 trillion between 2011 and 2030, while reasonable investment can contribute to better mental well-being.
Additionally, there are strong stigma and discrimination against persons with mental and intellectual disabilities. In particular in disaster settings, protection of persons with mental and intellectual disabilities is often neglected and not recognized.
As emphasized by the UN General Assembly, the genuine achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other internationally agreed-upon development goals requires the inclusion of the rights, well-being and perspectives of persons with disabilities in development efforts at all levels. The economic, social and health impacts of poor mental well-being are pervasive and far reaching, leading to poverty, high unemployment rates, and poor educational and health outcomes.
Mental well-being represents a critical indicator and a key determinant of well-being, quality of life, hope, and sustainable development. However, despite the close link between mental well-being and disability with development, the mental aspects have long been neglected in development discourse. Successful and sustainable development policies and programmes require a renewed prioritization of mental well-being and disability.
The April 2013 Expert Group Meeting provided a forum for intensive exchanges of knowledge and experience relating to norms and standards, institutional arrangements, governance and actual practice related to mental well-being, disability and their interface with development. Special attention was directed to promotion of mental well-being for all as a key indicator of development and promotion of rights of persons with mental and intellectual disabilities, which are essential-yet-neglected development issues in achieving the internationally agreed goals and commitments.