Big Ideas

Mental health is a global issue that needs local action

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Speak Your Mind campaigners, Jazz from New Zealand and Victor from Nigeria
Speak Your Mind campaigners, Jazz from New Zealand and Victor from Nigeria
Photo courtesy of United for Global Mental Health

A fter being diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 2013, I know how mental illness can hold you back from reaching your full potential. But I also know that with the right support, it’s possible to thrive again.

I had access to treatment that enabled me to get back on my feet. Not everyone is this lucky. In fact, 80 percent of people with mental health conditions in low- and middle-income countries have no one to turn to when they need mental health support.

Just under two years ago, I founded the organization United for Global Mental Health with my incredible co-founders, partners, funders, advisors, and team. Since then, we have dedicated our time to ensuring greater financing and advocacy for mental health on a global scale.

Campaigners at a Speak Your Mind workshop in Bali
Campaigners at a Speak Your Mind workshop in Bali
Photo courtesy of United for Global Mental Health
We are a convener and exist to support and unite existing efforts around the world to make mental health care a reality for all. We have united campaigners from 15 countries to establish the nationally-led, globally-united Speak Your Mind campaign, which aims to bring people together to ask their governments to take urgent action, demanding they invest in mental health.

The story of mental health isn’t uniform globally, which is why these movements are led at the national level. Leaders in each of the 15 countries ensure that solutions are tailored to and are effective in individual countries and contexts, then they come together to speak with one, united voice at key global moments.
The story of mental health isn’t uniform globally
Speak Your Mind was officially launched at the UN General Assembly in September 2019, and a day later at Goalkeepers in New York City, we were honored to announce the first-ever mental health accelerator to bring together partners from different sectors and catalyze expertise, investment and innovation to drive progress towards the Global Goals. At the gathering of approximately 400 world leaders, global activists, and community changemakers, we made the case for why it’s time to act on mental health.
Florence from Liberia, whose personal story was featured in The Museum of Lost and Found Potential, visiting the museum
Florence from Liberia, whose personal story was featured in The Museum of Lost and Found Potential, visiting the museum
Photo courtesy of United for Global Mental Health
Shortly after, on World Mental Health Day, we opened the Museum of Lost and Found Potential to showcase the lived experiences of 16 people around the world who face mental illness and to highlight what is lost to societies when mental health isn’t invested in–and what can be found when it is.

These are just some of the successes of the past year. United for Global Mental Health has supported the capacity building of national Speak Your Mind campaigners, through the establishment of a Pooled Fund for campaigners in low and middle-income countries. We have also delivered capacity building workshops in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Nepal, Ghana and Indonesia, with more planned for 2020. We have supported campaigners in their activities, that have included mass demonstrations, digital campaigns, walks, symposiums, community outreach events and training events.
Speak Your Mind campaigners in Sierra Leone
Speak Your Mind campaigners in Sierra Leone
Photo courtesy of United for Global Mental Health
The determination of campaigners has resulted in a number of national successes. The government of Sierra Leone committed to amend their Lunacy Act; Tonga developed its first-ever National Mental Health Policy and tripled their mental health budget; and New Zealand announced a wellbeing budget of $1.9 billion.

Still, the stats on mental health around the world are grim, and there is so much more to be done. Every 40 seconds, someone dies by suicide. Speak Your Mind has been encouraging members of the public to sign the 40 second voice petition to urge our leaders to provide quality services so that everyone, everywhere has someone to turn to when their mental health needs support.

Anyone can take part in any way that makes sense for them. Here are a few ideas from the World Health Organization on how you can take action in your own life to change the way we treat mental health around the world.

  • If you are struggling, take 40 seconds to kickstart a conversation with someone you trust about how you are feeling.
  • If you work in media, highlight the 40-second statistic in interviews, articles and blog posts.
  • If you work in the arts or on digital platforms, interrupt your production or broadcast to transmit a 40-second message about mental health or preventing suicide.
  • If you are an employer or manager, take 40 seconds to formulate a positive message of support to your employees about resources available to them in the workplace or local community in times of mental distress.
  • If you want your leaders to hear your request for action, record a 40-second audio clip or video telling them the action you want them to take on suicide prevention and mental health.
  • If you have a platform for communicating with a large audience (social media, television, radio), provide 40-second slots for sharing mental health stories and messages.
  • If you hold political office, communicate publicly about action you are taking to promote mental health and prevent suicide, highlighting the 40-second statistic.

Posted: December 19, 2019
Edition: Gather

The ideas and views reflected in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Evoke or Melinda Gates.