New Delhi (Agencies): Recognising mental health as a neglected area, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad on Thursday said there is a need to develop multi-national partnerships to address the problem.

"We recognise that mental health is a neglected area where awareness is low even among the health professionals," Azad said inaugurating a three-day International Conference- cum-Workshop of the Asia Pacific Community Mental Health Development Project here.

He said in recent years, the government has given a lot of attention to the issue of mental health in India and has increased the allocation of resources for the programme more than six times for the current five year plan.

Noting that there was still some stigma attached to persons with mental illness and epilepsy within the society, he said public education and efforts to change the attitude of general population towards persons with mental illness and epilepsy need to be undertaken.

The minister also highlighted that early identification and intervention can contribute to effective treatment, adding that the joint family system in India proves to be supportive to the persons with severe mental illness.

"One hopes that with progress, development and modernisation, we do not lose our traditional social customs, values and lifestyles as these have proved to be positive," he said.

Azad said that considering the available evidence that six to seven per cent of population in India suffers from common mental disorders and 1-2 per cent of population suffers from severe mental disorders and the fact that globally it is estimated that the burden of mental disorders will increase to 15 per cent by 2020, there is need to develop multi-national partnerships to address this problem.

He thus hoped that scientific deliberations from international and national mental health leaders at the three-day conference will help in developing a stronger network and innovative solutions for community mental health development.

According to WHO data, the Asia Pacific region has close to half of the approximately 450 million people affected by mental illness globally.

Mental disorders such as schizophrenia, mood disorders, substance abuse and dementia contribute more to global disease burden than cancer or cardiovascular disease. WHO has projected that by the year 2030, mental disorders will be one of the leading causes of the burden of global disease.