Big week for global mental health at the UN General Assembly

The 24-28th of September 2020 was a big week for global mental health. It was the UN General Assembly and we co-organised a side event, “Time to Act on Global Mental Health,” with the Governments of Canada, Ecuador, the Kingdom of Belgium, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Bahrain, the World Health Organisation, Nexus and the Born This Way Foundation. The event was funded by the Government of Canada.

The UN Secretary-General provided a video address in which he announced a new initiative, the United Nations Staff Mental Health and Well-Being Strategy, to care for the people who deliver the work of the UN. He said: “For too long mental health has been mostly an afterthought, despite its overwhelming impacts on individuals and communities…. I look forward to strengthening our shared work to promote mental health for everyone, everywhere.”

Cynthia Germanotta, Co-founder and President of the Born This Way Foundation chaired the event accompanied by two youth moderators, Emma McCann and Raghu Appasani. Sitawa Wafula, a mental health activist from Kenya with lived experience, shared her powerful story and her work to support others.

Here are just some of the issues that were covered:

  • Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health for the Government of Canada, said Canada is determined to keep mental health at the top of the agenda and cited the work of the Alliance of Champions for Mental Health and Wellbeing that Canada has formed with a number of countries to accelerate action across the world.
  • Tedros Adhanom Ghabreyesus, Director General WHO, said mental health is a priority under the WHO’s new 5-year strategy plan. He outlined three key areas for action: increased funding, inclusion of mental health services in benefit packages as part of Universal Health Coverage and addressing mental health as part of the response to the challenge of NCDs.
  • Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Kingdom of the Netherlands, described her government’s focus on tackling mental health in crisis situations in order to promote access, invest in capacity programming and mainstream mental health in everything that is done. She said a new initiative will be launched by the Netherlands with the WHO and ICRC and encouraged as many groups and activists as possible to get involved.
  • Maggie De Block, Minister of Health for the Kingdom of Belgium, described the progress made in Belgium including her personal effort to champion access to basic mental health services through reimbursement of treatments by clinical psychologists in primary care.
  • Maria Veronica Espinosa, Minister of Public Health of Ecuador, highlighted the importance of mental health in reaching universal health coverage and fostering political support for mental health.
  • Waleed Al Manea, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Health for the Kingdom of Bahrain described the country’s initiative to integrate mental health into primary care, and the commitment of his government to work with others globally to accelerate action on mental health.
  • Toshiya Hoshino, Ambassador Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations, noted that mental health was a peace and security priority for Prime Minister Abe.
  • There was a video address by the Queen of Belgium and remarks by Craig Mokhiber, Deputy to the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Tim Evans, World Bank, Patricia Danzi, Regional Director for Africa of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Patrick Smith, Canadian Mental Health Association, Dr. Judy Kuriansky, University of Columbia.

Participants remembered the 135 people who would lose their life to suicide over the course of the time of the event by holding up white roses.

The event ended on a joyful note celebrating the fact that mental health is part of the Sustainable Development Goals (having been missed out of the Millennium Development Goals) and the intention of all those present take forward the message that now is the #TimeToAct.