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WHO on World Health Mental Day: an opportunity to kick-start in investment in mental health

Mental health is one of the most neglected areas of public health. Close to 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder, 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide. And now, billions of people around the world have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is having a further impact on people’s mental health.


WHO on World Health Mental Day: an opportunity to kick-start in investment in mental health
Representative image form Pixabay

August 27, Geneva, Joint release by the World Health Organization, United for Global Mental Health and the World Federation for Mental Health: Yet, relatively few people around the world have access to quality mental health services. In low- and middle-income countries, more than 75% of people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders receive no treatment for their condition at all. Furthermore, stigma, discrimination, punitive legislation and human rights abuses are still widespread.


The limited access to quality, affordable mental health care in the world before the pandemic, and particularly in humanitarian emergencies and conflict settings, has been further diminished due to COVID-19 as the pandemic has disrupted health services around the world. Primary causes have been infection and the risk of infection in long-stay facilities such as care homes and psychiatric institutions; barriers to meeting people face-to-face; mental health staff being infected with the virus; and the closing of mental health facilities to convert them into care facilities for people with COVID-19.


Move for mental health: let’s invest


That’s why, for this year’s World Mental Health Day, WHO, together with partner organizations, United for Global Mental Health and the World Federation for Mental Health, is calling for a massive scale-up in investment in mental health. To encourage public action around the world, a World Mental Health Day campaign, Move for mental health: let’s invest will kick off in September.


World Mental Health Day is an opportunity for the world to come together and begin redressing the historic neglect of mental health,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “We are already seeing the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s mental well-being, and this is just the beginning. Unless we make serious commitments to scale up investment in mental health right now, the health, social and economic consequences will be far-reaching.

During the past few months, the World Health Organization has issued, in collaboration with partners, guidance and advice on mental health for health workers and other frontline workers, managers of health facilities, and people of all ages whose lives have changed considerably as a result of the pandemic. With the disruption in health services, countries are finding innovative ways to provide mental health care, and initiatives to strengthen psychosocial support have sprung up. Yet, because of the scale of the problem, the vast majority of mental health needs remain unaddressed. The response is hampered by chronic under-investment in mental health promotion, prevention and care for many years before the pandemic.


Countries spend just 2% of their health budgets on mental health


Countries spend on average only 2% of their health budgets on mental health. Despite some increases in recent years, international development assistance for mental health has never exceeded 1% of all development assistance for health. This is despite the fact that for every US$ 1 invested in scaled-up treatment for common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, there is a return of US$ 5 in improved health and productivity.


World Mental Health Day: An opportunity to commit


The World Mental Health Day campaign will offer opportunities, primarily online given the continuing pandemic, for all of us to do something life-affirming: as individuals, to take concrete actions in support of our own mental health, and to support friends and family who are struggling; as employers, to take steps towards putting in place employee wellness programmes; as governments, to commit to establishing or scaling-up mental health services; and as journalists, to explain what more can and must be done to make mental health care a reality for everyone.


“It is nearly 30 years since the first World Mental Health Day was launched by the World Federation for Mental Health,” said Dr Ingrid Daniels, President of the World Federation for Mental Health. “During that time, we have seen an increasing openness to talk about mental health in many countries of the world. But now we must turn words into actions. We need to see concerted efforts being made to build mental health systems that are appropriate and relevant for today’s – and tomorrow’s - world.


With so many people lacking access to good quality, appropriate mental health services, investment is needed now more than ever,” said Elisha London, Founder and CEO of United for Global Mental Health. “Everyone, everywhere can participate in this year’s campaign. Whether you have struggled with your own mental health, know someone who has been affected, are a mental health expert, or if you simply believe that investing in mental health is the right thing to do, move for mental health, and help make mental health care and support accessible for everyone.

Key events

United for Global Mental Health: The 24-hour March for Mental Health


On 9 October, people from around the world will be encouraged to participate in a virtual march. A 24-hour live stream will feature people with lived experience, mental health leaders and influencers from the civil society groups already active in 19 countries through the Speak Your Mind campaign. In addition, global partner organizations that are leading and coordinating work on mental health are organizing hour-long sessions on specific themes, including mental health and young people, mental health and older people, and mental health and the LGBTQ+ community. Confirmed partners include Human Rights Watch and Alzheimer’s Disease International. The March will help increase awareness of mental health issues, break down stigma and bring about policy change. Members of the public will be urged to “add their voice” and join the March using online filters to be released in the lead-up to the event.


WHO: The Big Event for Mental Health


On World Mental Health Day, 10 October, the World Health Organization will, for the first time ever, host a global online advocacy Event on mental health. At this event - the Big Event for Mental Health - WHO will showcase the work that its staff are doing around the world to reduce mental illness and the harmful use of alcohol and drugs. World leaders and mental health experts will join the WHO Director-General to talk about their commitment to mental health and what more must be done. World-renowned musicians who have spoken out about the importance of mental health will talk about their motivation and perform. Sportsmen and women whose lives have been affected by mental ill-health will share their experiences and how they have dealt with conditions such as depression and anxiety.


During the event, a Special Prize for a mental health film, a newly-created category of WHO’s inaugural Health for All Film Festival, will be awarded.


World Federation for Mental Health: education and awareness-raising


The Federation’s campaign kicks off on 1 September, with the Federation’s President launching the 2020 World Mental Health Day Campaign Educational Material “Mental Health for All: Greater Investment - Greater Access” under the Royal Patronage of HRH Princess Iman Afzan Al-Sultan Abdullah of Malaysia. This includes a Call to Action 2020 from Pamela Y. Collins and Deepa Rao, and will be followed by 45 days of awareness-raising activities led by the Federation’s youth section, including a global online discussion forum and art exhibition.

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