Mental Health and the UHC Political Declaration at UNGA

Written by Muhammad Ali Hasnain Senior Officer & Co-chair of the GMHAN UHC and Suicide Decriminalisation Working Groups.

High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) during the 78th UN General Assembly.

High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) during the 78th UN General Assembly.

United for Global Mental Health had the privilege of attending the High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) during the 78th UN General Assembly. This meeting held significant importance for the global health sector, as Heads of State and health leaders from member states gathered to discuss progress and commitments toward achieving UHC for all by 2030.

We are pleased to report that mental health emerged as a strong cross-cutting theme in the adopted draft of the HLM on UHC political declaration issued by the President of the UN General Assembly. From the opening paragraph, it reaffirmed everyone’s right to enjoy ‘the highest attainable standard of physical ‘and’ mental health’,  and received recognition for its crucial role alongside physical health, something many member states emphasised in their statements during the meeting.

“We underscore the need for us to integrate mental health and well being as an essential component of Universal Health Coverage.” – Nisia Trinidade, Minister of Health Brazil, on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) 

The declaration acknowledged the scale of ill mental health; referencing the staggering statistic that over 1 billion people live with a mental health condition worldwide, and approximately 703,000 lives are lost to suicide annually.

And when discussing the significance of primary health care in achieving UHC, strengthening health systems, and building resilience in health emergencies, member states unequivocally emphasised the integration of mental health as an essential component.

It gave us great hope to see the declaration go further on mental health. In the past, conversations about leaving no one behind have often overlooked mental health. Yet this year, mental health was specifically mentioned concerning vulnerable groups, children and young people; with member states committing to “address the physical and mental health needs of all, while respecting and promoting human rights and the principles of equality and non-discrimination.”

Member states also built upon the 2019 declaration by addressing the specific physical and mental health needs of individuals, including those affected by HIV/AIDS, rare, and communicable and non-communicable diseases;. and they specifically committed to promote mental health and well-being throughout one’s life course.

The mental health of the global health workforce received priority in the commitments, in part due to the challenging impacts of Covid-19, which were acknowledged during member state statements at the meeting.

“The pandemic has underscored the importance of mental health and the need for resilient efforts. Thus our investment in promoting the psychological well-being of our people.” – Simon Kofe, Minister of Justice, Communication and Foreign Affairs, Tuvalu. 

Lessons have been learned, and the declaration  addresses the shortage of the mental health workforce, with specific commitments made for their training, development, and retention.

The most significant achievement for mental health was a standalone paragraph where member states not only committed to “scale up measures to promote and improve mental health and well-being as an essential component of universal health coverage” but also recognised mental health as “an important cause of morbidity and having comorbidities with communicable and other non-communicable diseases, contributing to the global burden of disease.”

It’s essential to note that this progress was the result of tireless work behind the scenes by the ministries and missions of member states, along with the support of numerous partners including the Civil Society Engagement Mechanism of the UHC2030, national partners from the Global Mental Health Action Network, and organisations like the NCD Alliance, StopAIDS, APCASO, PMNCH, MDM, Africa-Japan Forum, and many others who advocated for meaningful inclusion of mental health in member state commitments on UHC. The Minister of Health of Argentina Carla Vizzotti made it a point to mention that the work does not end here and will continue at the Global Mental Health Summit on the 6th and 7th of October in Buenos Aires Argentina. 

However, this is just the first step. As Professor Shekhar Saxena aptly put  at the Global Mental Health Action Network’s annual meeting earlier this year, “global commitments hold little meaning unless they are implemented at the national level”. Thus, it is crucial for those working at the national level to use these commitments to hold their governments to account and advance the integration of mental health into UHC reforms, advancing pressure in the lead up to the next UN High-Level Meeting on UHC in 2027, Only then will all the efforts and work behind the scenes have been truly worthwhile.

You can read the commitments made by member states at the UN High-Level Meeting on UHC here

To learn more about the integration of mental health into UHC, what partners are doing at the national and global levels, and how you can contribute to it, join the Global Mental Health Action Network and register for the UHC working group:

Read more about United for Global Mental Health’s work on integrating mental health into UHC here.