How UN Missions can help deliver the Call to Action on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS)

By Sarah Kline, CEO and Co-Founder, UnitedGMH

UnitedGMH joined the call to action on mental health and psychosocial support

On 10 October, in the margins of World Mental Health Day, the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations launched a new Call to Action on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS).

It invites UN Member States and Observers, international organizations, civil society, and all relevant stakeholders to commit, although not legally bind themselves to, improving access to mental health and psychosocial support services, strengthening a comprehensive health and social protection system, and ensuring that universal health coverage includes these services. 

UnitedGMH is very pleased to sign this Call to Action and encourage members of the Global Mental Health Action Network and any other organisation committed to advancing progress on mental health to do likewise. 

But what happens next? How do we make the Call to Action a reality?

The following are some actions all stakeholders (and particularly UN Missions) could take to help achieve positive change:

1. Press for the UN agencies and other international organisations to prioritise MHPSS in their policies and practice

UN Missions have considerable influence in New York, Geneva and other locations where UN agencies and international organisations are based.

From WHO’s Global Programme of Work to UN Peacekeeping, humanitarian responses to long term development programming, Missions can help ensure UN agencies fully integrate mental health in their strategies and approaches including their budgets.

The Call to Action will only be delivered if all UN agencies and other international organisations reform their approach and fully integrate mental health. For example, the new strategy of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria integrates mental health for the first time in the Fund’s policy and programming.

For that to be successful, it needs to be implemented nationally by the Fund and all other stakeholders (from donors to CSOs), need to align their programmes and funding accordingly.

Call to Action on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS)

2. Prioritise mental health for high-level 2023 UN political processes and moments

The Call to Action commits to advancing MHPSS: we can leverage upcoming UN process and moments to achieve change.

We need to see missions ensure the full integration of mental health in the preparation, discussion and outcomes of the 2023 SDG summit – from measuring progress to addressing future challenges. And building on the UN Security Council I Arria-Formula Meeting convened in March 2022 by the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the UN, we need mental health fully integrated as part of the overall approach to peace and security, the economy, and the environment, as well as addressing the needs of particular demographic groups such as young people.

The preparation and delivery of the 2024 Summit of the Future will be a crucial opportunity in this regard. We all need to work with national governments to make mental health a part of their planning for UN political processes and moments.

3. Integrate mental health in UHC

The UN High-Level Meeting (HLM) on Universal Health Coverage in 2023 must conclude with an agreement to treat mental health and physical health as equally important and invest in addressing the comorbidities between physical and mental health.

The last HLM outcome document made a brief mention of mental health which was a welcome first step. But in 2023 there needs to be comprehensive inclusion of mental health throughout the preparation, discussion and final outcome of the meeting.

UN Missions can have a huge influence on these discussions and this needs to be complemented by action at national government levels to reform their health systems to a UHC approach that fully integrates mental health. UnitedGMH has worked on a series of policy papers with experts from the WHO and other organisations on how to integrate mental health in UHC and developed an advocacy toolkit to help all of us ensure we persuade policy makers to act.

4. Address the impacts of climate change and the environment on mental health now.

Discussions on response and adaptation need to include mental health. Large numbers of people are being impacted and displaced by changes in climate. Significant numbers of people living with mental health conditions are taking medications that increase their sensitivity to heat.

With a wide range of discussions taking place regularly among missions on climate change, mental health must be included in prevention, response and recovery efforts.

This briefing from WHO provides a useful summary of some of the key points to note for all stakeholders including those that missions can urgently advance.

5. Improve the quality and use of data.

We need mental health much more prominently integrated into the measures we use to determine policies and measure outcomes.

Mental health needs to be fully integrated from the Human Development Index to the Human Capital Index. And we need to use the data we have – through initiatives such as Countdown for Global Mental Health 2030 – to inform and improve programming.

Missions will rely on data to make the case for mental health: they need to call on all stakeholders, including UN agencies, to help increase the quality and use of data.

6. Strengthen and uphold human rights, tackling stigma and discrimination, including ending the criminalisation of suicide.

At the core of successful mental health programmes and approaches is the upholding of the human rights of people living with mental ill health.

Large numbers of countries have antiquated laws and policies: updating these in line with human rights norms and standards will bring long-term, sustainable change.

Human rights are frequently discussed at the UN: missions and other stakeholders working with the UN need to ensure the protection of the human rights of those impacted by conflict or natural disasters. But also the longer term, legislative reform necessary to uphold the human rights of all people including those at risk of or living with mental health conditions.

Decriminalising suicide is a crucial step.

7. Address the specific mental health needs of vulnerable groups.

This includes those identified as at increased risk of suicide and poor mental health in their community context, including women and girls, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, and youth.

Mental health should be fully integrated within sexual and reproductive health services and parent and caregiver services. National and local governments need to ban conversion therapy.

In summary

UN Missions  – whether in New York, Geneva or elsewhere – along with national governments,  NGOs, academics and researchers, trusts and foundations and/or others – can play an important role in accelerating positive action on MHPSS around the world.

The Call to Action can unite all of us who believe in collective action to achieve progress on mental health. UnitedGMH looks forward to working with the UN missions and all stakeholders willing to help deliver good mental health for all.

For more resources see: