WHO’s big event shows how mental health connects us all

“We want everyone to know that the World Health Organisation is 100% behind this issue. We want to continue to bring quality mental health care to everyone who needs it.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus remarked as he opened the first WHO Big Event for Mental Health on World Mental Health Day.

The event showcased WHO’s mental health work, explored how individuals can look after their own mental health, and provided a rallying cry for national and global actors to invest in mental health. With a mixture of technical information, politicians, celebrities, personal stories and musical performances, including stories from all over the world, the Big Event truly showed why good mental health is so important to the world and how mental health connects us all.

Highlights included:

In his speech, Peter Sands, the Executive Director of the Global Fund spoke of the importance of mental health in defeating HIV and TB: 

“We need to take advantage of World Mental Health Day to sweep aside that stigma and ensure we recognise that mental health is indispensable to good health. If we don’t deal with mental health we will not deliver SDG 3 ambition of health and wellbeing for all.”

This is important as it was the first time he had responded so clearly to the advocacy of UnitedGMH and its allies in calling for the integration of mental health in the Global Fund programmes and future strategy.

Muhammad Pate, reaffirmed the World Bank’s belief in importance of mental health stating that:

“It is time to stop seeing mental health in a silo. Health includes both the physical and mental health dimensions.”

This has been a priority advocacy message by UnitedGMH other GMHAN members over the past 2 years. The World Bank and GFF are potentially substantial global funders and very influential with finance ministers regarding integration of mental health as part of UHC.

Highlights from the 24 hour March for Mental Health by Speak Your Mind that had taken place the day before including both activists and leaders such as the IFRC Secretary General.

National leaders making the case for the importance of investment of mental health

They included Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore; Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the President of the Maldives; Epsy Campbell Barr, the Vice President of Costa Rica; Sigrid Kaag, the Minister for Foregin Trade and Development Cooperation from the Kingdom of the Netherlands;  and Her Majesty Queen Mathilde of Belgium.

Profiling of WHO work on mental health including updates from six of the Special Initiative on Mental Health countries, and the Quality Rights Programme.

The six countries including 2 Speak Your Mind campaign countries (Peru and the Philippines) along with Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Ukraine and Paraguay. There were also deep dives into  the mental health of those living with HIV, workplace mental health, suicide prevention, substance abuse including the opioid crisis and alcohol addiction, humanitarian assistance and mental health and psychosocial support. UNICEF provided a strong segment featuring the importance of work on youth mental health.

Musical performances from Super M and Speak Your Mind partner and mental health advocate Korede Bello.

The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres made clear how important investing in mental health is for ending the COVID-19 pandemic:

“Mental health services are an essential part of government responses to COVID-19. They must be expanded and fully funded.”

This builds on the UN Secretary General’s call in May for mental health to be at the heart of global and national COVID-19 response plans, a call that was supported by 95 countries.

Dr Tedros closed the event by reaffirming the WHO commitment to this issue and stating that:

“WHO will continue working every single day to increase awareness, investment and access to mental health service. There is no health without mental health.”

GMHAN members will discuss the next steps on this event during their working group meetings this week.