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Building Back Better for Healthy Minds

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Global Mental Health Action Network: Member's Blog

Building Back Better for Healthy Minds

Written by Deena Al-Zoubi Pharm D., MPH, PMP, a health advocate and a Young Leader in NCD Child’s Young Leaders Program.

If non-communicable diseases (NCDs) were a family, mental health would be the middle child, and I am not saying that because I am one. Mental health gets less than 1% of development aid funds[1] in a pool of funding that is not large to begin with. When this lack of prioritization and financing of mental health is coupled with current epidemiological, environmental, and political challenges, the global community is faced with the largest ever mental health crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a considerable and disproportionate impact on the mental health of youth. A  recent brief published by the WHO puts into numbers what we already know; there has been a 25% increase in the prevalence of depression globally and youth are among the most afflicted by the pandemic, which has caused pronounced risk to self-harming and suicidal behaviors. Despite the fact that young people were not among the high-risk groups for mortality or morbidity from COVID-19, the lockdowns, curfews and restrictions took an amplified toll on young people’s lives and their mental health.

Given this current context, what do young people need today?

  1. A paradigm shift on mental health

Young people are generally viewed as healthy, resilient, and hopeful about the future, and less likely to need or utilize health services in general. In that perception lies the greatest need for a paradigm shift among the global community: young people are in dire need of a continuum of care that promotes and attends to their mental wellbeing among other health needs. This care should address mental wellbeing comprehensively through services that focus on prevention as well as treatment of mental health issues.

  1. Tailored & responsive mental health services

Though planning health interventions is almost never a one-size-fits-all approach, this is especially the case for mental health. Youth-friendly services such as counseling and trained care providers are a must to ensure responsive mental health services.

  1. Real and non-tokenistic engagement in designing solutions

Youth, especially ones living with mental health issues, have the capacity and agency to come up with solutions to the mental health challenges at hand. I love this quote from one of NCDA’s reports on the engagement of PLWNCDs : “No measure of technical knowledge can replace the lived experience.” Young people are perfectly positioned to inform the policies and services that affect their mental health and should have a seat at the decision-making tables.

  1. A commitment to innovate

Innovative solutions to tackle health challenges are the way to solving budgetary restrictions, competing health priorities and filling gaps in mental health coverage. From artificial intelligence (AI) to digital health and the metaverse, there has never been a better time to tap into what technology and innovation have to offer. This can include integration of mental health tele-counseling, using chatbots, and digital symptom tracking systems and many other tools that can help improve the accessibility and efficacy of mental health prevention tools and treatment.   

  1. A commitment to invest

The WHO has also found that, on average, governments invest less than 2% of their health expenditure on mental health, which by no means matches the social and economic toll of mental health diseases. We would like to call on our governments to invest in mental health in a manner that matches the burden of the disease and responds to the inequities experienced by vulnerable and marginalized communities.

Finally, as we turn our focus to building back better after the COVID-19 pandemic, our new systems should cater to the needs of young people’s mental health as part of resilient health systems that cover both prevention and treatment of mental health issues. We need to ensure a spectrum of care that promotes mental health, is built to be inclusive, and is integrated into places (actual or virtual) where young people can access it and enhance uptake.

 

About NCD Child

NCD Child is a global multi-stakeholder coalition that advocates for the rights and needs of children, adolescents, and young people who are living with or at risk of developing non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

 

[1] Gilbert, B., Patel, V., Farmer, P., & Lu, C. (2022). Assessing Development Assistance for Mental Health in Developing Countries: 2007–2013. Retrieved 4 March 2022, from

 

 

 

This month marks two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Join the next Global Mental Health Action Network #MHForAll webinar with the World Health Organization exploring response and recovery plans for mental health, for this and future pandemics.

Tuesday 8th March, 14:00 GMT