Mental health in an unequal world: World Mental Health Day 2021

By Sarah Kline, CEO and co-founder, United for Global Mental Health

On this World Mental Health Day, themed “Mental Health in an Unequal World”, we are calling for action not just words. Mental health encompasses changing attitudes and beliefs, and providing vital support to people throughout their lives and particularly in times of crisis.

A wide cross-section of society around the world, often led by People With Lived Experience, are demanding urgent reforms to policies and practices, investment in interventions and support that they can freely design and choose for themselves wherever possible.

At United for Global Mental Health, we have been working very hard with our partners to make sure that the key political and campaigning moments this month are used to drive progress.

Here’s how you can join us:


At the  summit organised by the French government we organised the session to accelerate momentum on mental health and psychosocial support, identifying the best means to do so.


While every person has the right to the highest attainable level of mental health, far too many people are living with a mental health condition without the support they need. There is, perhaps, no starker example of this than in the 20 countries where suicidal behaviour remains illegal. This is an issue United for Global Mental Health is working to change by highlighting the issue to the international community and working hand-in-hand with those campaigning for the repeal of this legislation within their countries. There is now an international working group on this issue we are encouraging others to join.


In an unequal world the wrong type of investment can only serve to further entrench the denial of rights and maintain inequality. Therefore UnitedGMH is not just calling for policy change but for quality investment that supports a rights-based approach to services and support. And we draw on the wealth of experience of the over 1500 members of the Global Mental Health Action Network that represent over 110 countries to do so.


Moreover, mental health has to be integrated in mainstream and equitable physical health systems through universal health coverage reforms and integrated in communicable disease programmes. This is the message we are communicating to the Global Fund to FIght AIDS, TB and Malaria, and to the World Bank and GFF. For example, greater investment in mental health could result in 14 million TB cases avoided between now and 2030. Crucial decisions will be made in the coming weeks on the future direction of the funding these global financing organisations control.


Meanwhile Covid-19 has widened poverty gaps and exacerbated the crisis in mental health care around the world. Taking a multi-sectoral approach that addresses health, education and social protection is essential. This is a key recommendation of the newly launched UNICEF State of the World’s Children Report. Together with WHO, Harvard, the Lancet, UNICEF and the Global Mental Health Peer Network, we have launched Countdown for Global Mental Health 2030 to highlight the need for a multisectoral approach. The dashboard enables anyone to access information and measure progress on mental health in their countries and around the world. We encourage everyone to use data for action: advocacy, programme design and policy change.


Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and other factors is widespread, and is known to cause or exacerbate mental health problems. Stigma in all parts of society must be eradicated. We continue to encourage as many stakeholders as possible to share their experiences and solutions through fora such as the Global Mental Health Action Network webinar series and ensure People With Lived Experience are fully included – including in our current recruitment of new trustees.

UnitedGMH is committed to advocating for everyone’s mental health rights; improved as well as increased mental health finance, quality and person-centred; and the eradication of mental health stigma. As people everywhere mark World Mental Health Day we will be calling for talk to turn to action. And we will continue to promote the ways we can work collaboratively together to uphold everyone’s right to good mental health.