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Webinar Series: One year on

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Webinar Series: One year on

By Anna Watkins

In April 2020, as the world went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a small group of experts in the Global Mental Health space came together with United for Global Mental Health to bring you a series of informative webinars about how this pandemic is, and will, affect mental health systems, programmes and policies globally. The webinars were designed to continue on a weekly basis for three months, but thanks to the strong support and encouragement we’ve seen, here we still are - a year later!

Over the last twelve months we have run 36 webinars, with over 140 speakers joining the discussion from more than 40 countries. With topics ranging from human rights, to mental health stigma and substance abuse, the scope of the sessions has changed and adapted over time.

The premise of the sessions, however, has remained the same - through our webinars we share powerful learnings, diverse expertise and elevate the voices of those with lived experience among our dedicated audience. 

I spoke to four people who have taken part in the webinar series over the last year to find out how the series has impacted their line of work.

David Kareroro, Founder of Burundian Youth for a Brighter Future

"I really enjoyed being invited to take part in the series as it helped me to share my thoughts and experiences. I felt special as it is not often that young people with lived experience are given the opportunity to share their thoughts, and felt special as I was part of the solution. 

I learnt a lot from other guest speakers as we had different perspectives and also my fellow panellists with different backgrounds enriched my engagement toward my activism for the well-being and mental health for migrants. Platforming diversity through these webinars is a plus as we need to get more insights from people with different backgrounds in order to find together solutions on common issues."

Eleni Misganaw, President of the Mental Health Service Users' Association Ethiopia

"The Mental Health for All webinar series is booked in my calendar and I always look forward to taking part. As a leader of a user-led organization in Ethiopia, the series is an important platform for me so that I am updated on different topics relevant to my mental health advocacy work.

I found the discussions to be timely ones with speakers who have direct experience in the issue. I usually share a summary of the discussion with relevant stakeholders to continue the discussion and contextualize it at a local level.

It was a privilege to be part of the panellists on World Mental Health Day 2020. The session has given me the opportunity to reflect on what greater investment and access means for a service user in a low resource country. It was indeed an honour to hear the rationale for selecting the WMHD theme from the team who was involved in coining it. 

I think it is important to continue to amplify different voices to keep such platforms truly global; including the perspectives of mental care users and the wider mental health community in low resource settings."

Niall Boyce, Editor of Lancet Psychiatry

"From its beginnings as a project to connect with and inform professionals during the first months of COVID-19, the Mental Health For All Webinar series has developed into a forum for discussion and debate on all aspects of mental health care. It is a genuine privilege to be involved. The web-based format of the series, which was initially a compromise dictated by pandemic conditions, has turned out to be one of its biggest strengths.

Communications technology has broken down barriers that previously stood for decades, giving a platform to an unprecedented diversity of voices and views. No longer can the global mental health conversation fall back on presumption and prejudice, and no longer can it be the exclusive preserve of the conference circuit. The Mental Health For All series has catalysed a new phase, one that I hope will be based on equity, openness, and the free exchange of ideas and solutions from every setting. There is no returning to the pre-COVID norm in global mental health discourse now—nor should there be."

Dinesh Bhugra, Professor Emeritus Mental Health & Cultural Diversity Kings College, London

"If ever proof was needed, the COVID-19 pandemic has confirmed that the world is interconnected in ways we had not even considered possible. From the physical spread of disease to creating a sense of panic and increased mortalities and morbidities in nations across the world, the pandemic has shown disproportionate effects on poorer nations.

Travel restrictions in and across countries with short and repeated lockdowns, social isolation, personal/physical distancing have all contributed to increased rates of various mental illnesses including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorders along with higher consumption rates of alcohol and other substances.

An acknowledgement of the needs of underprivileged populations be they prisoners or migrants was highlighted by the United for Global Mental Health in their seminars which I had the privilege of chairing. The important lesson is that we cannot keep reinventing the wheel and have to share examples of good practice and learn from each other. With speakers from a number of backgrounds in both seminars the key message emerged that as civil society we MUST look after the vulnerable to ensure that their needs are met. This includes managing matters at international, national, regional and local levels looking at social determinants and bringing about equity at various levels."

A huge thank you to everyone who has contributed to our webinar series so far, from our panellists to our viewers, and we look forward to continuing our series. 

You can sign up to future webinars here, or visit our webinar page to learn more.