Tackling mental health in the world’s poorest places: CBM UK merges with BasicNeeds UK

Posted on: Friday, 21st July, 2017
Hari was supported through an emergency mental health project that CBM conducted after the earthquakes in Nepal.

People living with mental illness in low-income countries are some of the world’s most marginalised people, so CBM UK is excited to announce our merger with BasicNeeds UK, the largest organisation working globally to improve the lives of people affected by mental health problems.

The merger will create a new strong voice on mental health in development and help us do more to tackle this neglected area. Our life-changing work on blindness and other forms of disability will continue.

Mental health conditions such as depression are the leading cause of disability worldwide, often leading to immense suffering and preventing people from earning a living or participating in their community. 80% of people with mental illness live in low- or middle-income countries, where most have little or no access to treatment or support and many face extreme poverty, stigma, discrimination and abuse.

Kirsty Smith, Chief Executive of CBM UK says:

“For many people, the word disability still conjures up a picture of a person using a wheelchair or a white stick, but in fact mental health conditions are the world’s leading cause of disability, affecting over 450 million people at any given time.  And while the UK is seeing, at long last, increasing awareness of and commitment to invest in mental health, the situation in low- and middle-income countries where 8 out of 10 people with mental disorders live, is very different. There, most people have no access to mental health treatment or support. The extent of the suffering this causes, and the social and economic cost, is shocking. 

From its foundation, CBM has been driven to reach those whom others leave behind. More than a century ago, our founder Pastor Ernst Christoffel was moved to help blind street children whom others barely noticed. Ever since, CBM has been working to help men, women and children with disabilities, and those at risk of disability, recognizing that they’re often the poorest and most excluded in their communities. Since 2002, we’ve been working to support people with mental health conditions in the world’s poorest places. This exciting merger with BasicNeeds will help us expand and develop our mental health work alongside our important programmes supporting people affected by blindness and other types of disability, to help meet this huge and neglected need.”

BasicNeeds approached CBM UK about a merger as their programmes helping people with mental health problems in 9 countries were at risk of closure due to lack of funding. The merger will therefore ensure support will continue to reach some of the world’s forgotten people, while also strengthening CBM’s expertise and capacity to tackle mental illness alongside our work in blindness and other forms of disability.

Adrian Sell, CEO of BasicNeeds UK says:

“I am delighted that we are able to announce the merger of CBM UK and BasicNeeds UK. For over seventeen years BasicNeeds has been a highly effective and influential international NGO that has developed a way of reaching the poorest to improve their mental health. Founded in 2000, BasicNeeds has developed a model for working that has been tested in fifteen countries across four continents. We have successfully reached over 700,000 people affected by mental illness and epilepsy and their family members in a very wide range of resource poor settings across Africa and Asia.

Like CBM’s founder Pastor Ernst Christoffel a hundred years before him, BasicNeeds’ founder Chris Underhill MBE was moved to help people who were being neglected by others. He saw that those with mental health problems had needs that were often not even acknowledged by their community or society. BasicNeeds has helped to move the world from ignoring the plight of people with mental illness to a position where, today, there is growing interest and research into how we can respond effectively to the needs of people with mental ill health in developing countries. By demonstrating that something can be done, BasicNeeds has both improved people’s lives and helped to persuade funders and policy makers to act.

Building on this success BasicNeeds is excited by the potential of joining with CBM to greatly increase the positive impact we can have on people with mental health problems. Through working together we can combine our expertise and resources and become a leading global voice and source of expertise on mental health in development.”

Photo: Hari was supported through an emergency mental health project that CBM conducted after the earthquakes in Nepal.

Mental health around the world

  • More than 450 million people globally will have a mental health problem at any time. One in four people worldwide will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.
  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. Mental disorders are responsible for more than 10% of the global disease burden.
  • 80% of people with mental health problems live in low-and middle-income countries. In low-income countries, people are more likely to experience poverty, unemployment, migration, and poor health and education systems, all of which increase vulnerability to mental illness.
  • In low- and middle-income countries, between 76%-85% of people with mental disorders receive no treatment, compared to 35-50% in high-income countries.
  • See more at World Health Organisation Fact file on mental health


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