Last month, health ministers from around the world gathered for the annual World Health Assembly. Our team at United for Global Mental Health followed along to see where and how mental health was addressed. We had three key takeaways from this year’s Assembly:

1. The impact on mental health is a key factor in conflict and the aftermath of conflict. 

The Assembly saw members pass a resolution regarding the conflict in Ukraine. This included an agreement that the WHO assess, “the extent and nature of psychiatric morbidity, and other forms of mental health problems, resulting from the protracted situation in Ukraine and refugee receiving and hosting countries.” In addition, Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine (wife of the president), used her keynote speech to argue forcefully for the need to address mental health needs, both now and in the future.

This spotlight on mental health in conflict and humanitarian settings follows a dedicated discussion on mental health among UN Security Council members earlier this year.

United for Global Mental Health is working with the World Health Organisation and other partners to highlight the impact of conflict and other health emergencies on mental health and what can be done to address it.

2. COVID-19 has had a significant impact on mental health yet the discussions on planning for future pandemics still fail to adequately include mental health.

While many governments have talked about mental health and rising needs during COVID-19, little of the current discussion on future pandemic response acknowledged the need to protect (not defund) mental health services. This is a critical oversight that needs to be addressed or we will not have learned the lessons of COVID-19.

United for Global Mental Health is working with partners such as the Pandemic Action Network and the UN Foundation to advocate for the inclusion of mental health in pandemic preparedness and response.

3. Mental health deserves our full attention 

The Assembly saw Global Action Plans agreed to address epilepsy and other neurological conditions, and to address alcohol. And WHO reported in its mental health newsletter that, “delegates asserted that meeting the mental health needs of populations across the world and particularly in low- and middle-income countries, will only be possible through increased action on mental health including through the integration of mental health into universal health care. This will require a substantial increase in sustainable financing, and capacity to deliver accessible and quality mental health services.

But these discussions on mental health and the action plans were barely noticed under the all encompassing item on non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

At the World Health Organisation’s Executive Board in January, member states underlined the importance of addressing mental health as a separate agenda item from NCDs in order to give full attention to the issue. Much of the international processes on NCDs mention mental health but are not well known by the mental health community or utilised to accelerate action. For example, the new Global Coordination Mechanism on the Prevention and Control of NCDs.

More work is needed to accord mental health the time it deserves; and to make sure mental health is addressed and fully integrated across all physical health programmes.

United for Global Mental Health will continue to track the NCDs and mental health agenda and will continue our call for mental health to be given the time it deserves. We are working with a wide range of partners to press for the integration of mental health in Universal Health Coverage and programmes such as those of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.