June 14, 2024

Mental Health in UzbekistanUzbekistan has taken a series of initiatives to address the mental health crisis, which affects one in eight people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Improving mental health in Uzbekistan has the potential to yield an impressive return on investment. The WHO estimates almost half a trillion Uzbekistani sum (UZS) return over the next decade. According to the International Psychiatry country profile, the Uzbek government has already made great strides in tackling the mental health crisis since it became a public health priority in Uzbekistan in November 1998.

Obstacles

Historically, mental health care in Uzbekistan has relied on institutions grappling with understaffing and inadequate funding. These obstacles have resulted in increased rates of mental health issues. This includes a 15% increase in registered mental disorders between 1991 and 2017 and a suicide rate being 8.0 per 100,000 people in 2019, according to WHO.

The journey to implement mental health reforms has been met with challenges. This has included stigmatization and low political support, according to the Central Asian Journal of Global Health. The stigma surrounding mental health is a global issue that hinders people’s ability to seek treatment.

Recent Initiatives

On April 20, 2023, the Uzbek Senate held a meeting to discuss the mental health and well-being of Uzbek youth. During this meeting, the working group for adolescent mental health discussed educational work to address the mental health crisis, bringing thousands of examples of how media can help this.

On June 19, 2023, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed a decree outlining initiatives to improve the public mental health service. These initiatives include implementing the World Health Organization’s Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) and integrating Social Emotional Learning (SEL) into school curriculums.

The Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP)

mhGAP consists of 48 recommendations that aim to empower nations in confronting the mental health crisis head-on, with a specific focus on addressing neurological, mental and substance abuse disorders. These evidence-based recommendations range from training and intervention strategies to medication guidance.

The training that mhGAP Intervention Guide (mhGAP-IG) provides has been particularly impactful. A 2020 International Journal of Mental Health Systems study revealed this training has the power to boost participants’ knowledge and skills in mental health care despite obstacles such as resistance among staff and lack of financial resources. Since this initiative has only been present in Uzbekistan since 2023, there is not yet a record of its impact. However, past studies paint a promising picture for the future of mental health in Uzbekistan.

Education and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

SEL can be a powerful tool in the prevention and early intervention of mental disorders by promoting general mental well-being. It consists of five components: “self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.” These pillars not only promote personal development and well-being but also contribute to fostering resilient communities.

A few examples of how this could look in Uzbek classrooms are mindfulness practices or intentionally integrating skills such as cooperation or listening into daily activities, according to Be You. Implementing SEL in secondary schools can reach more youth as a result of Uzbekistan’s recent education reforms.

Other preventative educational initiatives include training sessions and seminars that the Republican Specialized Scientific and Practical Medical Center for Narcology conducted in hundreds of schools aiming to assist students in identifying signs of substance abuse, according to the Uzbek Senate.

Regional Collaboration

Uzbekistan is not alone in the ongoing battle to tackle the mental health crisis. In April 2023, Uzbekistan hosted talks about strengthening mental health care in Central Asian countries through community-led initiatives and partnerships. Further collaborative efforts occurred in October 2023 when Uzbek mental health representatives and professionals joined three other Central Asian countries for a study visit to Trieste, Italy. There, they learned about community-based mental health reform.

Looking Forward

In the ongoing battle against the mental health crisis, Uzbekistan stands alongside fellow Central Asian countries striving to address the issue through evidence-based reforms. With each strategic step, more than 30 million Uzbeks move closer to enhanced mental wellness.

– Madison Paulus
Photo: Flickr

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