Prioritise mental health in global development

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We, as representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), recognise the importance of mental health for the sustained health, wealth and success of individuals, communities and nations. Based on our experience and important emerging evidence, we wish to highlight three overarching areas which threaten the successful realization of the World Health Organization (WHO) Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020 and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

  1. Integration
  2. Expertise
  3. Financial Resources

With the right response and coordination, such barriers can be overcome. We call on our development partners, including multilateral agencies, governments, funders, civil society, people living with mental health problems and carers, to join us in addressing the following:

1. Integration

Barrier: Lack of Integration into Development Agendas

We call on development partners to include mental health in existing strategies for health system and social service strengthening. Mental health activities are not frequently integrated into strategies for strengthening health systems or social services. As a result, people living with mental health problems are left behind. We can be more effective and efficient with our current resources if mental health is included in planning, funding, implementation and evaluation of efforts to improve health and social outcomes.

Barrier: Lack of Prioritization within Development Agendas

We call on development partners to challenge stigma and recognize mental health as a priority. Around the world, stigma leads to discrimination, abuse and neglect. Stigma further contributes to inadequate resource allocation and limited political attention. When governments do not see mental health as a priority, NGOs struggle to establish effective partnerships, threatening the sustainability of mental health programmes.  Development partners and especially governments must visibly prioritize mental health within development agendas and use public health campaigns and education as avenues to raise awareness and promote social inclusion.

Barrier: Lack of Visibility within Information Systems

We call on development partners to monitor and report on mental health indicators. Mental health indicators are not typically integrated into the information systems used to track population health, service provision, resource allocation or the impact of interventions. Improved data collection, monitoring and surveillance will hold development partners accountable for ensuring that needs are identified, progress is tracked and people living with mental health problems benefit from activities carried out as part of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

2. Expertise

Barrier: Lack of Human Resources and Capacity

We call for development partners to explore sustainable solutions to strengthen human resources and capacity. There is a shortage of adequately equipped human resources for mental health. Development partners can work together to identify sustainable solutions to recruit, train and maintain a skilled and motivated workforce, drawing from examples of cost-effective task-sharing approaches which have proliferated in the health sector in recent years. Coordinated knowledge management within the field of global mental health can build capacity by harnessing and mobilising existing knowledge even as new learning is generated through research and practice.

Barrier: Lack of Engagement of People Living with Mental Health Problems and Carers. 

We call for people living with mental health problems and carers to be included as valued partners in development. Development partners must collaborate with and foster leadership among people living with mental health problems and carers, making their needs central to the design, implementation and evaluation of services.  Whilst there is a place for professional expertise, there is also a need to recognise the significance of people’s lived experience and the value of peer-to-peer and peer-led interventions, advocacy, research and evaluation.

3. Financial Resources

Barrier: Lack of Transparent Funding Streams

We call on funders to establish transparent funding streams for mental health. Most mechanisms for international development funding do not currently make any explicit provisions for mental health. As a result, it is unclear where to apply for financial support, and funders cannot track mental health spending or its impact. Funding that is clearly accessible to civil society to support mental health systems, either through mental health-specific activities or as an integral part of broader health and social programming, is essential to achieve the objectives of the Mental Health Action Plan and SDGs.

Barrier: Inadequate Funding

We call for increased funding with longer funding cycles in order to achieve substantial, long-term impact on mental health systems.
The international development funding currently provided for policy development, capacity building, service delivery and research is grossly inadequate when compared to the global burden of disease associated with mental health problems. Further, the funding provided is often administered in one- or two-year cycles which are too short to make substantial, long-term change. Funding cycles of five years or longer would help to build more sustainable mental health systems and enable rigorous evaluation to demonstrate impact.

Organisations in support of #NGOs4MentalHealth:

  1. Action Contre la Faim
  2. Action on Disability and Development International
  3. Africa Alliance for Health, Research and Economic Development (AAHRED)
  4. Alive and Kicking
  5. BasicNeeds International
  6. Carers Worldwide
  7. CBM International
  8. Find Your Feet
  9. Gede Foundation
  10. HealthCom Global Network Foundation
  11. Health Poverty Action
  12. International Medical Corps
  13. International Rescue Committee
  14. John Snow Inc
  15. Lepra
  16. MedicalAidFilms
  17. Mental Health Awareness Foundation Maldives
  18. Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Network
  19. Mental Health Innovation Network
  20. Network for Africa
  21. REPSSI
  22. Royal College of Psychiatrists UK Volunteering and International Psychiatry Special Interest Group
  23. Scotland-Malawi Mental Health Education Project
  24. SignHealth
  25. The Leprosy Mission
  26. United for Global Mental Health
  27. Unity in Health
  28. War Child
  29. World Vision

Photo: The photograph is used for illustrative purposes only; it does not imply any particular health status, attitudes, behaviors, or actions on the part of any person who appears in the photograps. © 2014 Jignesh Patel/Valsad, Courtesy of Photoshare