GMHAN Members share their views on the upcoming World Health Assembly
Ahead of this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA) - the decision making body of the World Health Organisation - members of the Global Mental Health Action Network lay out why mental health for all by 2030 must be a key aim of the Assembly. Representing more than 1,200 members from academia, governments, international organisations, NGOs and the private sector in over 90 countries, their message is clear - there is no health without mental health.
The world is talking more about mental health than ever before as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This World Health Assembly (WHA) has the opportunity to turn talking into action and begin truly reforming mental health and psychosocial support for the benefit of all people, everywhere. Members of the Global Mental Health Action Network (GMHAN) have been sharing what this year’s Assembly needs to tackle, here is what we have to say:
The pandemic provides a once in a generation opportunity for action on mental health
Mental health is being challenged like never before by COVID-19 and continues to take a toll on already overwhelmed mental health services that are under-funded and under-resourced in many countries on every continent affected by the pandemic. Prioritizing mental health as an essential component of COVID-19 response and recovery plans is critical. WHO Member States need to seize the opportunities to build a mental health system that delivers quality mental health and psychosocial services to communities which will transform societies and economies. Ensuring communities and nations recover and rebuild from the pandemic in ways that promote human rights, sustainable development, productivity and economic growth, and well-being for years to come is an opportunity WHA Member States cannot afford to miss.
An extended Global Mental Health Action Plan
The extension of the WHO Global Mental Health Action Plan (2021 - 2030) that is being endorsed by Member States at the WHA includes the integration of mental health and psychosocial support into primary and community health systems as part of Universal Health Coverage (UHC). This has to remain a core objective of the Action Plan and drive members states own action moving forward. Faced with a coverage gap of care and services for common mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, of up to 90% in some low-income countries, delivering UHC means everyone, everywhere should be able to access the health services they need without suffering financial hardship.
Lived experience must be included
Inclusion - the meaningful and authentic involvement of persons with lived experience with mental health conditions at all levels of society – is critical to helping transform mental health for all. A transformation that can enable everyone to thrive and not just survive, especially in times of crises such as COVID-19. People with lived experience can add value as experts by experience to advance the quality, accessibility and affordability of services through being involved in research, policy development, service development, service delivery such as peer support work, reducing stigma and training of health and mental health professionals. Despite evidence of the benefits of lived experience involvement and human rights principles, the lived experience community still faces obstacles to be recognized as a catalyst for change. WHO Member States need to commit to removing the structural barriers, restore power imbalances and apply the principles for meaningful and authentic - partnership, respect, empowerment - lived experience involvement.
Tackling stigma and discrimination
Research shows that in many countries 80% to 90% of those with mental ill health will experience negative stigma and discrimination which can worsen someone's mental health problems and delay them seeking help, treatment and their recovery. WHO Member States need to build mental health literacy for citizens especially in low-middle income countries and encourage conversations about mental health with the public to help break down the stigma of talking about mental illness. Developing educational campaigns which can be designed for any scale, from local to national, need to be part of the response to persistent and often pervasive mental health stigma and discrimination.
The return on investing in mental health
The effects of greater investment in mental health are direct to individuals. Research using the WHO One Health Tool reveals that if Member States were to increase mental health expenditure on five common and severe mental health conditions 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.
WHO Member States must act collectively on the essential role of mental health in achieving health for all people. This year’s Assembly is a chance to do this, and we are united in our call to ensure this happens.
You can find out more about the Global Mental Health Action Network and how to get involved here.