Mental health emerges as one of the overarching asks in the three health-related multi-stakeholder hearings

By Yves Miel Zuniga, Senior Officer at UnitedGMH

Last week, civil society organisations, governments and UN agencies from around the world gather at the UN Headquarters in New York City for two days of ‘multi-stakeholder hearings’ on a range of global health issues, and United for Global Mental Health was there. These hearings were in preparation for three High-Level Meetings on tuberculosis (TB), pandemic prevention, preparedness and response (PPPR), and universal health coverage (UHC) which will take place in September. Encouragingly, mental health was included in all three multi-stakeholder hearings. 

In the TB hearing, Paran Sarimita, a TB survivor from Indonesia, highlighted the burden on physical and mental health and called for more accelerated action for TB-affected communities. Olya Klimenko, a TB advocate in Ukraine, echoed this. She pointed out how psychological support is an urgent need among TB-affected communities, especially in her country, facing conflicts and war. UnitedGMH delivered its statement underscoring that there will be no end to TB without meaningfully integrating mental health. 

During the PPPR hearing Dr. Pamela Cipriao President of the International Council of Nurses, shared how mental ill health was a burden for healthcare workers, especially nurses, during the COVID-19 pandemic prompting a need for a strong and sustainable workforce for pandemics. UnitedGMH argued not to leave behind mental health whilst considering PPPR. 

At the UHC hearing, Dumiso Gatsha from Success Capital Organisation and Co-Chair of the Global Mental Health Action Network UHC Working Group drew the attention of everyone to addressing the needs of a range of vulnerable groups, including neurodivergent groups for UHC and was welcomed by the audience. 

The discussions across the hearings resonate with the five key asks of the global mental health community for the three health-related high-level meetings:

  • Parity is essential: Mental health should be treated as just as important as physical health in all discussions and the voices of people with lived experience of mental and physical health conditions must be heard. 
  • Integrating mental health accelerates all progress – whether that’s into UHC, PPR or TB programmes, or achieving the SDGs. 
  • Children’s and young people’s mental health is the priority. Accelerating action to achieve the SDGs requires a focus on these age groups. 
  • Crises exacerbate mental ill health. Programmes addressing pandemics, conflict and natural disasters (including the prevention of and response to environmental disasters), must integrate mental health if they are to truly serve people’s needs. 
  • Build on what we agree upon. We have the texts of previous high-level meetings on UHC and TB, among other important documents, and use the proposed UNGA Resolution on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support for Sustainable Development and Peace to mobilise collective action among Member States.

All statements and summary briefs including specific mental health language can be found for each HLM and the SDG Summit here

Aside from the hearings, UnitedGMH, in collaboration with mental health champions STOP TB Partnership, APCASO, and STOPAIDS, participated in dialogues with governments while in NYC (Mongolia, Thailand, Cambodia, France, Nepal, Australia, Philippines, and the UK). Governments were receptive and supportive of mental health as an issue which is a welcome development. The Canadian Government hosted a side event to emphasise the international community’s need for concerted action and investment in integrating mental health into peacebuilding efforts. In addition, several civil society organisations (including UNICEF, the Red Cross, NCD Alliance) and UN agencies (such as WHO) rallied behind mental health as a standalone issue concerning one of the HLM themes. 

With the hearings complete, the co-chairs of each HLM will develop the first draft of the political declaration – the focus of negotiations between Member States that will pan out in June and July. This will be when the format, participation of the HLMs, and crucially, what will be discussed, will be decided. UnitedGMH will keep working with partners from around the world to continue the conversations around meaningful integration of mental health, particularly in the upcoming World Health Assembly in May and opportunities leading up to the UN General Assembly High-Level Week in September. 

Members of the Global Mental Health Action Network can engage their national governments to champion the policy recommendations from the global mental health community during the political declaration negotiations for the three HLMs.