Our statement to the 74th World Health Assembly

The tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic of the past year has put mental health into sharp focus across the world. The extraordinary increase in mental health needs – with the added challenges of COVID-19 – is taking its toll on already overburdened mental health services.

As countries seek to respond to, and recover from, COVID-19 we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to move mental health forward. By investing in mental health now and building mental health into all COVID-19 response and recovery plans (not just health plans but those of other sectors such as education and social services), we will build back better for society as a whole, and mental health in particular.

We are delighted to see the extended WHO Global Mental Health Action (2021 – 2030) being endorsed by member states and we look forward to those member states implementing the Action Plan. United for Global Mental Health is particularly pleased to see that the full integration of mental health and psychosocial support into primary and community health systems as part of universal health coverage remains a core objective of the Action Plan. In particular, mental health services for vulnerable groups such as children and young caregivers needs to be prioritised in UHC reforms. Mental health for all by 2030 must be a key aim of the Assembly – there is no health without mental health.

To achieve this goal increased and improved finance is required. Internationally accepted financing targets such as at least 5% to 10% national health budgets being spent on mental health must be realised, and for those countries furthest behind, increased and coordinated donor finance is required. Increasing investment means increasing volume but also quality: this, in part, means a focus on rights-based services delivered at the primary and community care level rather than expensive, inefficient tertiary care where human rights violations are most prevalent. To ensure the achievement of quality mental health systems those with lived experience of ill mental health must be included in the design and development of those systems.

The effects of greater investment in mental health are direct to individuals. Our research using the WHO One Health Tool shows that if mental health expenditure on five common and severe mental health conditions was to rise steadily to meet the globally recognised target of mental health expenditure – at least 5% to 10% national health budgets – then by 2030:

  • The number of cases of anxiety, depression and epilepsy alone can be decreased by nearly 60 million leading to an overall reduction in cases across the world.
  • A sustained increase of 25 million healthy life years gained for those with anxiety, depression, psychosis, bipolar disorder or epilepsy.
  • Nearly 200,000 deaths could be avoided due to depression, psychosis and epilepsy alone.

The world is talking more about mental health than ever experienced before. Members of the Global Mental Health Action Network are releasing their statements to the Assembly and need to be heard. With the agreement of the updated Mental Health Action Plan, this Assembly has the opportunity to turn talking into action and begin reforming mental health and psychosocial support for the benefit of all people, everywhere.