10/09/2013 11:04 am ET Updated Dec 09, 2013

Taking Mental Health Beyond the Medical

"When my situation worsened, my family hid me. They did not want anybody to see or know about me." -- BasicNeeds participant with bipolar disorder, Ghana

The stigma attached to mental illness still continues today with more than 450 million people globally being affected with some kind of mental disorder. As highlighted by the latest Global Burden of Disease Report, depression is projected to be the leading burden of disease by 2030. Almost three-quarters of those suffering from mental illness live in low- and middle-income countries, where up to 85 percent of people with severe mental health conditions do not have access to much-needed mental health treatment (the figure for high income countries is 35-50 percent). People with mental illness experience widespread stigma and discrimination, suffer violence and abuse, find it harder to get work or education or contribute to their family and community. They are more prone to other forms of illness and disease, and find it harder to access health care. This is a vicious cycle.

It was against this backdrop that Chris Underhill fulfilled a long-standing goal in founding BasicNeeds, with a mission to enable poor people both old and young with mental disorders to live and work successfully in their communities. He firmly believes it is vital to not only address the medical aspects of the problem but also the social causes of mentally ill people in order to tackle the poverty they face. Convincing people to buy into this broader approach, be it funders, development workers or mental health workers was one of the major challenges that Chris faced while setting up the organisation. He remarks, "When they tell you it's impossible, you know you're onto something innovative."

After analysing various models that existed for mentally ill people globally, it was evident that the few interventions that exist typically focus on medical interventions which are both costly and less effective as they do not address the multiple issues of health, poverty and stigma experienced by affected people and their families. BasicNeeds has therefore created a replicable, packaged model known as the Model for Mental Health and Development which consists of five inter-dependent modules: Capacity building, Community mental health, Livelihoods, Research and Collaboration. The model addresses the multi-faceted nature of mental illness and epilepsy for both sufferers and caregivers in the developing world, within a community setting not an institution. In working with mentally ill people, rather than merely for them, BasicNeeds' projects work in partnership with local poor, rural and urban communities in 12 low- and middle-income countries across Asia and Africa to bring about sustainable changes in the lives of people affected by mental illness and epilepsy.

"I'm especially glad that now I have something to do, and can keep busy helping my family. Now I feel I can contribute something and I am more independent." -- BasicNeeds participant, Lao PDR

This World Mental Health Day we have reached out to 580,131 people with mental illness, their caretakers and family members since our work began in 2000. It has been a challenge but also hugely rewarding to see people with mental illness reintegrate back into their communities. However, there are millions more who suffer silently and who have few opportunities to seek the assistance they need. BasicNeeds now aims to reach at least a million more people by 2018. One of the ways we aim to do this is by promoting the BasicNeeds model as a product via a social franchise to other agents who can cost-effectively implement it in their countries or regions. Such collaboration and partnership is absolutely essential for tackling such an intractable issue in a sustainable way.

By supporting BasicNeeds through the CrowdRise challenge we can reach out to more people with mental illness and epilepsy who are in need of help.