With mental disorders on the rise in every country in the world, nowhere is immune, said the article jointly written by Elisha, London Chief Executive Officer, United for Global Mental Health (United GMH) and Peter Varnum, Project Lead, Global Health and Healthcare, World Economic Forum.
Poor mental health stops employees from reaching their full potential and forces them to take more sick days, stunting productivity and economic growth. This is also a challenge with society-wide ramifications, said the article.
Loneliness and isolation affect many of the most vulnerable among us. People with serious conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are especially likely to be marginalized by their communities. Those with the most severe conditions pay with their lives, dying prematurely – as much as two decades before their time.
“Fortunately, coming into Davos this year we are riding a sea change in how the world approaches mental health,” said the writers.
At the highest levels of government, private sector and civil society, leaders are stepping up to commit to promoting positive dialogues around mental health, it said, adding that this means culture shifts in our shared spaces: in the workplace, in schools and in communities. And this momentum is coming from both the southern and northern hemispheres.
Over the course of 2018, a mental health initiative from Zimbabwe, the Friendship Bench, made its way from Harare to conferences in the UK and Qatar. The Friendship Bench program trains grandmothers to support people with mental health conditions and talk about how to find solutions to their problems.
This relatively simple, highly effective solution is an inspiring example of south-north knowledge transfer: New York City has adapted the concept for its own streets. The Friendship Bench will be making an appearance at this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, welcoming leaders to come and sit on it, and to discuss their commitment to improving mental health in their organizations and around the world.
Mental health was also a key topic at another, even larger, global gathering in 2018: the UN General Assembly. The issue was featured prominently over the course of the High-level Meeting on Non-communicable Diseases, held during the Assembly.
At this year’s annual meeting, the World Economic Forum will be running an ambitious mental health program that WEF hopes will influence the public and private sectors, as well as civil society.
Fundamentally, WEF wants to help steer a shift in how societies as a whole view and manage mental health to achieve the objectives already agreed by leaders as part of the WHO’s Global Action Plan on Mental Health developed in 2013, and the vision set out by the Lancet Commission.
To achieve this, the WEF proposes the following overarching objectives:
The treatment of mental ill-health should continue to be a pillar of responses globally, but we should strive just as hard to prevent it.
Skill-building towards better understanding and management of mental health should be a focus for everyone.
Global, multisectoral collaboration is the key to success in 2019.
The global momentum around mental health offers exciting opportunities, but it also needs to be properly harnessed. Key milestones of the 2019 calendar should be treated as deadlines, not just events.
“We are confident that the common goals being crafted by the global mental health community will continue to be refined at Davos. Given the groundswell of commitment, these goals will be further fleshed out over the course of 2019, as targets are agreed, accountability channels established and resources lined up,” said Elisha and Peter Varnum.
Strong foundations for sweeping change have been laid in 2018. Beyond that, our hope is that mental health will gather further momentum in 2019 and reach a first apex of action in 2020 – building on all that’s already been achieved, and moving closer towards a world where everyone, everywhere has someone to turn to when their mental health needs support, they added.