This year’s High-Level Week of the UN General Assembly UNGA was held against the dark backdrop of war, economic turbulence, and global health insecurity. All of which hugely impact, and are impacted by, mental ill health.
Yet mental health (as a discussion point, at least) was low in the comparatively more accessible UNGA side events this year.
UNICEF is promoting schools and other educational venues as a key part of mental health systems, calling for the education sector to be supported to create spaces that are not only mentally healthy but also to provide early interventions.
The event, sponsored by the Thai Government, had high-level speakers, including a passionate call to action from the Queen of Spain, and Dr Tedros who reminded us that for progress to be achieved, we need sustained finance and coordination between health and education systems.
In the broad spectrum of mental health, for this year’s UNGA it was adolescent mental health that could be seen on the events listing.
These types of global political gatherings allow for mental health to be discussed in multidisciplinary ways and for us advocates to insert mental health into discussions where it may not have been otherwise.
Two notable events that I attended were the Jhpiego-hosted event on primary health care (PHC), at which Dr Atul Gawande confirmed that mental health is an integral part of his and USAID’s approach to PHC, and a presentation from the expert working group on Global Public Investments (GPI) on development finance reimagined.
On the former, it is significant that Dr Gawande highlights mental health within his approach to PHC as PHC is the backbone of his tenure at USAID, directing how the US Government engages with health systems in many low- and middle-income countries and providing leadership to other development agencies.
The global mental health sector has much to learn and offer in the latter event. GPI is proposing a new way of doing international development finance that addresses the entrenched power imbalance in the status quo.
Although tragic, the historical lack of international mental health finance is an opportunity to do finance differently with a sector not held back by long-standing issues and politics; those working in development finance should grab this.
Watch out for the Global Mental Health Action Network’s (GMHAN) working group on financing over the next couple of months as they explore this.
There is a growing sense that 2023 will be a big year for global mental health; many exciting plans are being laid, and we have detailed these here. A test of success will be UNGA 2023. Will mental health be on the agenda in its own space or, better still, integrated throughout the world’s discussion on the most pressing social, economic and security issues?
Will mental health be a core part of the SDGs Summit and the UHC high-level meeting? The work to achieve that has already begun: for example, the GMHAN universal health coverage working group has just launched a new advocacy toolkit.