The time has come to put mental health at the heart of UHC

By Sally Houghton, Head of Partnerships at UnitedGMH

The time has come to put mental health at the heart of UHC

The time has come to put mental health at the heart of UHC 

The stakes could not be higher. Huge and growing numbers of people are going without the mental health care they need. Millions of the most vulnerable people in society – enduring incarceration, coercion, chaining, over-medicalisation, stigma and exclusion – have nowhere to turn.

The UN high-level meeting on universal health coverage (UHC) in September represents a golden opportunity to change this. It is time for national leaders and the international community to seize this chance and make mental health an integral part of the world’s push for better health.


Stepping up our advocacy efforts

At United for Global Mental Health (United GMH), we are stepping up our advocacy efforts to ensure the high-level meeting delivers for people with mental health conditions. We firmly believe that putting mental health at the heart of UHC will reap benefits for the whole health sector and beyond  – and is critical to the success of UHC. 


With the support of the Vitol Foundation and the Bernard Van Leer Foundation, United GMH has produced the ‘Mental Health For All’ advocacy toolkit – a guide on how to push for the integration of mental health into UHC. It provides our national advocacy partner organisations with everything they need to start or to boost their own efforts to have mental health integrated into UHC reforms in their own countries.  


Working in partnership

We have also provided targeted support to national partners in Pakistan, South Africa and Ghana. 

  • In Pakistan, there is as much as a 90% gap in UHC coverage for common mental health conditions. With our support, Taskeen has worked with the Pakistan government to establish a national mental health crisis taskforce, which is in the process of putting together a new national mental health bill. If the bill passes this will ensure more focus on primary and community-level care and better regulation of service providers.
  • In South Africa, fewer than 1 in 10 people with mental health conditions receive the care they need. We have been working closely with the South African Federation for Mental Health, to help them ensure that South Africa’s national health insurance bill meaningfully includes mental health. 
  • Ghana’s national UHC roadmap aims to make sure 80% of its population has access to essential health services by 2030. But mental health is at risk of being left behind. Right now, only 2% of people with a mental health condition receive the support they need. We are supporting our partner Basic Needs Ghana and they are doing excellent work to change this, including working with Elton John Aids Foundation to generate more financing for mental health through the Global Fund, and ensuring mental health is integrated into the UHC roadmap. 


In Bangladesh, the Philippines and Nigeria our national partners are planning to capitalise on the current wave of global UHC reforms by calling for the meaningful integration of mental health into national UHC plans. We plan to step up our work with them and with other partners: the Global Mental Health Action Network has a UHC working group open to anyone who wants to make change happen!


Genuine political commitment

This kind of targeted national-level approach, involving working in strategic partnerships, has delivered significant results. But there’s much more to do. To address the world’s mental health crisis, we need to build genuine political commitment and mobilise domestic and/or transformational national and international donor financing. 

September’s UN high-level meeting on UHC and the rising importance of UHC reforms for national governments means there has never been a better time for donors to support the delivery of UHC reforms. 

It won’t be easy, but collaboration and strong partnerships give us the best possible chance of success! 



Learn more from these case studies from GhanaPakistan and South Africa to see how UnitedGMH and our partners are advocating for the integration of mental health into UHC reforms.