Member Spotlight: United for Global Mental Health

October 26, 2022

United for Global Mental Health – striving for better mental health for all.

Author: Ben Haber, Head Of Finance and Operations, United for Global Mental Health

At United for Global Mental Health (UnitedGMH), we work to raise awareness, reduce stigma, and increase support for mental health around the world with trusted partners. Our 2021–2023 strategy outlines a vision for a world where mental health support is accessible to everyone, everywhere without stigma or restrictions. We use our expertise in advocacy, financing, and campaigning to advance this vision and focus on four areas of strategic impact – rights, education, systems, and finance – to deliver progress. 

  • What are you currently working on that you’re excited to share?

We are working to ensure mental health is fully integrated into Universal Health Coverage (UHC). We advocate globally and nationally for action and run a working group on the topic involving stakeholders from around the world. We have released a  series of briefings to make the case for integration and have recently launched a new advocacy toolkit to help advocate for change to national and global decision-makers. We are actively working with member states, NGOs, and international organisations to make sure the UHC High-Level Meeting next year in 2023 results in the greater integration of mental health in UHC at a global,  national, and local level.

We organised a workshop at the recent Mental Health Ministerial Summit in Rome featuring health ministers from Canada, Argentina, the UK, and Australia along with leaders in mental health programming from the UK, Kenya, and Italy. We want to see all health ministers commit to increasing action on mental health and support partners at the country level to help achieve this.

We have helped develop and launch Being, the new multi-million dollar mental health funding initiative that we have been working on with Fondation Botnar and Grand Challenges. It will help increase support for youth mental health nationally, particularly in LMICs, and globally over the coming years.

  • Is there a particular program of which you are most proud?

Over the past 4 years, we have launched and grown the Global Mental Health Action Network (GMHAN) a free-to-access membership organisation of over 2,200 individuals and organisations from 127 countries. It exists to connect people and resources to promote better mental health awareness and provision. There are working groups of people around the world collaborating together on a variety of topics including improving child and adolescent mental health, helping end the criminalisation of suicide, increasing mental health financing, and integrating mental health into UHC. Membership of the network is free and anyone who has an interest in mental health advocacy can join here.

To help further grow the mental health community worldwide and enable us all to learn from one another and act together, in 2020 we launched the Mental Health For All webinar series. Two years later and GMHAN has hosted 51 webinars with over 160 speakers from more than 42 countries. We had nearly 350 attendees live at our recent webinar on planning for World Mental Health Day (featuring WHO, UNICEF, Wellcome, WFMH, and others) and we know many people read the notes and will watch the recordings afterwards. The webinars are free and open to anyone. You can sign up here.

  • Is there a story that illustrates the progress your work has been able to achieve?

We have worked with governments, international organisations, and CSOs to successfully persuade the Global Fund to integrate mental health into its new strategy. We recently launched a communications toolkit for those working to better integrate mental health in HIV and TB programming. It was well received by the Global Fund UN agency focal points and CSOs and we are now turning it into a longer-term product. We are working with a wide range of UN agencies and national partners to make the strategy a reality at the country level. 

  • What does your organization view as the biggest challenge it faces?

The stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental health is a huge barrier to making change happen – for us and for our partners around the world. In a recent survey of people with lived experience of mental health conditions, many reported that the stigma and discrimination they experience is worse than the mental health condition they live with. Many have faced challenges to accessing health services, prejudice at work, economic hardship and/or impacts on their relationships with family and friends. We know that in many countries people are denied their human rights and can experience physical and mental abuse. 

  • How is your organization seeking to solve this problem?

Many of our team are people with lived experience of mental health conditions, and we work extensively with others around the world. We were part of the development, and coordinated the launch, of the Lancet Commission on Ending Stigma and Discrimination in Mental Health in October 2021. The report of the Commission, based on the inputs of hundreds of people with lived experience of mental health conditions, made a series of recommendations for different stakeholders including governments, health workers, and the media. We helped secure media coverage on the report recommendations around the world, while we also released a media manifesto to encourage change in reporting practices, and held three media roundtables for journalists covering Africa, Latin America, and global outlets to help encourage them to join us in helping end stigma and discrimination. 

One particular aspect of the impact of stigma and discrimination that we are working hard to change are the laws and policies that criminalise suicide. We work with partners around the world to help reform mental health laws and policies so they are in line with human rights norms and standards and the goals and targets agreed under the WHO Comprehensive Mental Health Plan. For example, we are working with our partners Taskeen in Pakistan who have successfully campaigned for suicide decriminalisation through the parliamentary and judicial systems; and supporting campaigners such as in countries such as CAPMH Kenya and the Mental Health Coalition of Sierra Leone who are campaigning to repeal the laws.

  • What is your call to action for others in the global health community?

Mental health needs to be fully integrated across the health sector. Our research – for example on HIV and TB – shows that there will be better health outcomes (fewer infections lower mortality) if mental health is integrated. Mental health and physical health are intrinsically linked.

Involve people with lived experience in your dialogue about health issues, especially those from Low and Middle-Income Countries who do not have access to global meetings or events and frequently have far fewer resources than colleagues in high-income countries.

  • What do you see as the next big idea as global health continues to evolve?

For UnitedGMH we are looking at a few areas that will impact the evolution of global health – and mental health as a part of that – from the role of digital interventions to how to finance future mental health services. One area that needs lots of big ideas is addressing the impact of climate change and the need to integrate mental and physical health within the prevention, response, and recovery from environmental and climate-related crises. We need to help support people through the transitions they are facing in their livelihoods and their locations, the anxiety they face as they look to the future, and also urgently invest in finding interventions that address the mental and physical health effects of extreme heat today. WHO has produced a helpful policy brief on the links between mental health and climate change and what actions are required and we are working to advocate for greater action.