Mental health makes history at the 74th World Health Assembly

“The pandemic has highlighted the need for increased global and national progress for mental health. Investing in mental health will help the world get back on track with the SDGs.”  Canada, 74th World Health Assembly.

For the first time in history, Mental Health had its own agenda item at this year’s World Health Assembly – the annual meeting of health ministers and policy makers from around the world. Discussions and statements for this agenda item – Mental health preparedness for and response to the COVID-19 pandemic – began yesterday, on Wednesday 26th May. There were some key stand out statements from mental health champions from around the world, as well as definitive overarching themes.

Member states read out statements in which they approved of and endorsed the updated WHO Mental Health Action Plan, but also called for increased support to enable both member states and the WHO itself to fully achieve the targets set. Some of these statements were read on behalf of groups of member states, helping to reinforce the support for mental health across the world.

It was widely agreed that although COVID-19 has massively impacted service delivery and the mental health of citizens, it also provides an opportunity to strengthen health systems for the future, and integrate mental health support into UHC.

“Cambodia is making an effort to strengthen and integrate mental health in health.” – Cambodia

“We need to lay the foundations for more quality services after the pandemic.” – Spain

“Mental Health should be a part of Universal Health Coverage.” – Israel

This increased awareness of, and need for, mental health was strongly reflected by many member states, specifically amplifying the multi-sectoral and multi-dimensional affects the pandemic has had on society.

“Mental health affects all areas of life particularly in a pandemics.” – Brazil

“This pandemic has had far reaching consequences on mental health and we must act to respond” – Australia

“When we talk about mental health we are talking about investing in everyone.” – Uruguay

“Kenya has adopted a ‘whole of society’ approach to mental health as part of the COVID response.” – Kenya

COVID-19 has in some ways fast tracked the awareness of the need for quality mental health interventions.  Member states took the opportunity yesterday to highlight some of the key things that they have introduced or scaled up in order to address the mental health crisis. For example, in Cambodia staff and officials have been trained in MHPSS, as well as community level training, and virtual training has been carried out for Cambodia Red Cross staff. A guide for MHPSS in schools has been developed and implementation begun.

“MHPSS guidelines for emergencies have been created and COVID-19 health workers have received mental health first aid training. Mental health is in the UHC agenda and is being implemented.” – Kenya

“In line with the updated WHO Action Plan the Korean government has mapped out the budget for the next 5 years to make sure it is concrete and realisable.” – Republic of Korea

One strong call to action that cropped up multiple times was the need for better regulatory frameworks and monitoring mechanisms for mental health,

“We need to commit to regular and timely reporting.” – Canada

“We need laws, policies and mental health plans and funds for mental health to ensure people get what they need.” – World Federation for Mental Health

Finally, below are some quotes that stood out from yesterday’s groundbreaking discussion which emphasise the importance of investing in quality mental health services, especially in the context of devastation from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has highlighted the need for increased global and national progress for mental health. Investing in mental health will help the world get back on track with the SDGs.” – Canada

“Good mental health is essential to living life to the full.” – Denmark

“Mental health is now even more important.” – Israel

The mental health agenda item will be continued later on this week (discussions are currently scheduled for Saturday) so stay tuned for further updates.