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Mental Health For All Webinar: Global Advocacy in a Virtual World

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Mental Health For All Webinar: Global Advocacy in a Virtual World

On Tuesday 14th December a panel of experts were invited to discuss global advocacy in a virtual world, the progress made this year and what lies ahead in 2022, as part of our #MHForAll webinar series. Speakers for the session included:

  • Yves Zuniga, MentalhealthPh (Chair) 
  • Sarah Kline, United for Global Mental Health 
  • Alison Brunier, WHO 
  • Ann Willhoite, UNICEF 
  • Arshinta, Yakkum

Throughout the session the speakers highlighted how 2022 has been an important year for mental health advocacy. At the World Health Assembly the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan was updated and agreed for 2021-2030, UNICEF launched its flagship State of the World’s Children Report (focusing on mental health for the first time ever) and there has been increasing research and reporting on the impact of COVID-19 on mental health. 

The last year has also seen a greater level of awareness among the public. This is partly due to COVID-19, but also a testament to the hard work of advocates, campaigners and organisations around the world. For example in Indonesia Yakkum, as Arshinta highlighted, is connected to over 500 people with mental health conditions and has mobilised more than 600 young people on campaigning and awareness work.

Alongside these developments organisations have had to adapt towards a virtual way of working, which has brought both challenges and new advantages. On the one hand, the ability to work across countries in a global setting has had huge benefits. For example Sarah Kline noted how the Global Mental Health Action Network has continued to expand, now reaching over 1600 members in 113 countries, allowing international collaboration at a time when it is needed most. Ann Willhoite also emphasised how a more diverse set of voices are able to participate in important, global discussions as a result of virtual working, strengthening advocacy efforts across the sector. Similarly global and national level events have become more accessible for many. For example the WHO has been able to host and participate in more and more virtual events, including the launch of their Helping Adolescents Thrive toolkit and the new guidance on implementing suicide prevention efforts at a country level.

However virtual working and virtual advocacy are not without their challenges. Alison Bruiner pointed out that there is a difference between participation and engagement at virtual events. It is very possible for people to join virtual events without fully engaging, and that’s where innovation is needed. Breakout rooms, Twitter Spaces and other creative uses of technology have been beneficial in tackling this, and are expected to remain beyond COVID. Other challenges include virtual working making it difficult to establish strong relationships, and having a detrimental impact on mental health for some. 

Despite such difficulties, it was clear from all our speakers that throughout the course of the year huge progress. National and global organisations have worked hard to build on the potential of virtual advocacy and harness the global attention that mental health is now receiving. The panel emphasised that there is a big question around sustaining momentum on mental health beyond COVID. Each speaker pointed out that we currently have a historic opportunity to do so, with governments carefully looking at mental health policy and practice more than ever before. 

Looking to the year ahead, it is clear that there is more to do. As Arshinta pointed out, there is still a lack of reliable, quality data on mental health. Initiatives such as Countdown Global Mental Health 2030 have been beneficial in this, but more data is needed. Other challenges include the threat of climate change and the potential impact of working from home on mental health. For Arshinta and Yakkum, continuing to work on mental health and HIV will also be crucial in the years ahead. 

There will also be several key advocacy opportunities for the mental health field. This includes the WHO’s release of its World Mental Health report (providing a comprehensive look back and look forward on the state of mental health around the world), the G-20 and upcoming national elections in several countries. United for Global Mental Health is now developing an Advocacy Roadmap for 2022, which will outline some of the key moments or processes that could influence mental health. This includes relevant political moments, financing systems, UN events and other global level moments, and will be shared in January 2022.

You can watch the full recording of the webinar here.