World Mental Health Day – WHO hosts online event to promote mental health support

By - World Healthcare Journal
World Mental Health Day - WHO hosts online event to promote mental health support

On World Mental Health Day, Saturday 10 October, the World Health Organisation hosted “The Big Event for Mental Health” across multiple platforms to advocate for mental health support and ensuring that quality mental healthcare is available to those who need it.

Hosted by WHO and Femi Oke, award-winning journalist and broadcaster, many mental health experts, world leaders, philanthropists, and celebrity guests gathered virtually from across the world, to discuss the pressing aspects of mental health in the world today.

Femi Oke and Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, began the three-hour session by discussing some of the key issues in mental health, and how the WHO is working to improve them.

“As you know, mental health is one of the most neglected areas of public health. This was true before the pandemic, and the pandemic is further complicating it,” said Dr Tedros.

“Close to one billion people are living with a mental disorder, and close to 3 million die every year from the harmful abuse of alcohol, and one person dies every 40 seconds through suicide.

“This is very tragic, yet, despite this burden, very few people are able to access quality mental healthcare. In low and middle-income countries especially, three out of four people living with mental health issues do not receive any treatment at all. On average, countries spend less than two per cent of their total health budgets on mental health. Mental health is really neglected.

“But now, words must be matched with actions, to increase investment into mental health services on a massive scale, so that access to quality mental health services becomes a reality for everyone. There is no health without mental health. ” 

High profile support 

The event was supported by high profile individuals from across the globe, including Queen Mathilde of the Belgians, António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, Klas Bergling, co-founder of the Tim Bergling Foundation, and father of the late DJ, musician and producer Tim Bergling, aka Avicii; Alisson Becker, goalkeeper for Liverpool Football Club and the Brazilian National Football Team; Natália Loewe, medical doctor and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Health Promotion and Korede Bello, founder of the Korede Bello Foundation, mental health advocate, and singer and songwriter from Nigeria.

Mohamed Solih, President of Republic of MaldivesEpsy Campbell Barr, First Vice-President of Costa Rica, and António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General also spoke at the event.

“Good mental health enables us to fulfil our potential. It strengthens our resilience, and our ability to deal with traumatic and stressful situations,” said Queen Mathilde.

“The increased attention for mental health, following this epidemic, provides us with the opportunity to strengthen our health systems, and to improve them.

"I sincerely hope that in the near future, each one of us will have access to mental health services as and when we need them. Don’t forget that mental health is of concern to all of us. ” 

Global superstar DJ Avicii’s father Klas Bergling gave a moving testimony of the impact of the suicide of his son at just 28 years old. “My son Tim took his life on April 20, 2018. That’s when things really changed for my wife and family,” said Klas.

“But we also understood that this is a bigger problem in the world. Suicide and mental health issues are really a big problem among young people.

“We decided that we had to do something for Tim’s heritage. The foundation focuses on preventative actions for children, young people, and young adults. We decided to make a donation to an organisation called MIND, so that they could open their suicide helpline 24/7 for 365 days a year.

“We have a plan for 2021, we will do more things to make a difference, and drive the reduction of the stigma about talking about mental health problems.

“The more we talk about these things openly, in our families, with our friends, it helps. And it’s proven, absolutely proven, that conversation helps. It doesn’t always need to be specialist and complicated. It’s more effective to open up and talk about it. ” 

Popstar Lady Gaga’s mother, Cynthia Germanotta, co-founder of the Born This Way Foundation and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Health, also highlighted the importance of eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health. She stressed that young people around the world should understand that their feelings are valid and should not be ashamed of how they feel - as well as their mission to “Make Kindness Cool”.

Special Initiatives 

The session examined the work of the WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health, launched two years ago by Dr Tedros. With the philosophy that ‘nothing is impossible’ when it comes to improving mental healthcare provision, 12 countries have been given five years to improve their mental healthcare services, and collaborate on new strategies and actions to improve mental health for all.

Six countries were featured throughout the event, including Bangladesh, Jordan, Paraguay, the Phillipines, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe. In these countries, mental healthcare provision is stretched thin - but through the work of the Special Initiative, mental health support is improving.

Young people and mental health has been a special focus for this World Mental Health day. “Adolescents and young people all around the world are going through a critical time in their lives, growing, developing, finding their place in the world, and most importantly, setting the foundation for later life health, and wellbeing,” said Josiah, Mental Health advocate from New Zealand.

“To make a real difference, energy, expertise, and funds must be invested to ensure that our young people can enjoy good mental health, despite the difficulties that many of them face.

"This will benefit our young people of today, our future adults, and our next generations, to give them all hope. ”  

Young mental health advocates from around the world spoke about what mental health meant to them and the issues that need to be addressed. Omnia, a youth advocate from Egypt, stressed again that investment in mental health is urgently needed, a call echoed by Bernadette from the Philippines.

But work is already underway to provide better services to young people across the world, such as the Helping Adolescents Thrive (HAT) Initiative, Early Adolescent Skills for Emotions (EASE) and Sustainable Technology for Adolescents to Reduce Stress (STARS), organisations run by UNICEF and WHO.

Renata, a HAT facilitator in Belize, explained her role in supporting young people who struggle mentally. “I have led facilitations for the HAT initiative,  conducting focus groups for mental health and round table discussions. Mental Health taught universally opens the door for everyone to comprehend mental health effectively, advocate properly, and live harmoniously. ”

Maha, EASE programme advisor in Jordan, explained how EASE improves ways of communicating with young people, and being more objective about different feelings, as well as emotions that might occur.

These types of initiatives are already successful, as Anthony, a Young STARS advocate and student from Cape Town testified.

“Chommie (STARS) had a very good impact on my life, and it helped make me who I am today, with all the things I have learned from Chommie, I am able to accomplish each and everything that I want. ” 

In a special performance, Super M, K-pop boy band shared their new song “Better Days”, which focuses on the struggles which people face, and how together we can work towards better mental health for everybody.

Mental Health in the workplace

As we spend a large proportion of our lives working, our jobs influence our health for the positive, developing our sense of identity, purpose, and livelihood.

But work also affects us negatively, impacting on our mental and physical health. Globally, 15 per cent of the working population have some form of mental health issues, and this figure is likely to have grown since the Covid-19 pandemic, with many more people isolated from colleagues, undergoing changes in their job, and experiencing higher levels of stress, particularly for those working on the frontlines.

“What the pandemic has made visible is what health and social sector workers have been doing for years, and doing with smiling faces. But behind this face, is lots of those battling with mental health issues arising from the work. ” said a spokesperson for Public Services International.

“We always work under unstable and challenging situations, and we also witness human suffering in natural and manmade disasters. This may cause immediate stress to us, but in some cases, it may also create some long-term mental health impact. ” said a spokesperson for the Humanitarian MHPSS.

Following the speech from Queen Mathilde, many more stories were heard, including a short film surrounding the LIVE LIFE organisation, and the work that they are doing to prevent suicide and increase understanding and assistance required by those at risk of suicide.

If you would like to watch the rest of World Mental Health day, please check out the recording of the event on YouTube.

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