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Will You Join the Mental Health Revolution?

Image: Andrew Seng. United for Global Mental Health CEO Elisha London among speakers and the cast of Dear Evan Hansen at the launch of Speak Your Mind at the 2019 UN General Assembly.

This week at the United Nations, young people have brought their burning issue directly to leaders. They are demanding immediate action to save our planet. As a long-time campaigner, it is heartening to see their voices finally being listened to in the conversations that matter in corridors of power. 

It is clear when it comes to our planet, young people all over the world care deeply about addressing climate change. When it comes to their health, we know mental health is the high priority. And with most conditions developing before the age of 14, ensuring that our world is one proactively gearing up to provide support for everyone, everywhere couldn’t be more important. Yet, for too long mental health has been neglected, so much so that our world is not equipped to address this growing global silent crisis.

In the same way that there is no plan B for our earth, so many people in our world today don’t get a second chance when they aren’t able to find the support they need for their mental health. 

Most people in low- and middle-income countries don’t have anyone to turn to when they need support with their mental health. Tragically, every 40 seconds, someone in our world dies by suicide. This shouldn’t be the case in 2019.

Which is why this Monday, at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), we publicly launched the Speak Your Mind campaign, a nationally driven, globally united movement where 15 countries are calling on their governments for greater action on mental health – we asked you to join the mental health revolution. 

At the start of UNGA week, leaders from government, business and across society came together with Speak Your Mind campaigners from Sierra Leone, New Zealand, Tonga and Nigeria, many of whom know first-hand the realities of living with mental ill health. 

We celebrated progress, but also highlighted that there is so much more to be done. Government leaders attended a High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC), making plans for how people across the world, regardless of their situation can access vital healthcare. A “political declaration” of commitments on UHC was signed. The declaration included progressive language on mental health, which reflects text submitted by the Blue Print Group of campaigners, academics and experts by experience, convened by United for Global Mental Health.

This declaration is an historic first in putting mental health on a par with physical health in UHC and committing global action accordingly. 

It is a significant document but actions speak louder than words. Systemic change is needed in many countries for support to be a reality for people living with mental health needs in the here and now. 

Taking to the stage in New York with this message were people who know too well what can happen when people aren’t able to get the help they need. In our midst was Jazz Thornton, an inspiring young woman from New Zealand. As a suicide survivor she works to save lives at the coalface of care and is driving meaningful change in her country, which has the highest youth suicide rate in the world. 

Together with the World Health Organization, The World Federation for Mental Health, International Association for Suicide Prevention and others we are calling for you to take #40seconds of action to prevent suicide and for greater awareness of mental health. 

With help from the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, author and comedian Stephen Fry, mental health advocate Zak Williams, the Red Cross and Crescent Movement, Carlos Sanvee, President of the World YMCA, the cast of Emmy Award-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen and many others, we invite you to share your voice in the Speak Your Mind voice petition – so that together we can communicate to leaders across the world what change is needed. It is your chance to share why you personally want change. We know so many people are affected by mental health. Whether it be themselves, loved ones, colleagues or friends. It is a part of life. 

At the annual Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers event, we saw mental health take to the international stage again as we launched our mental health accelerator, communicating to the world the reality of the crisis that exists, and giving those across society the chance to band together to face the challenge together. 

A decade on from the 2007 Lancet Series on global mental health, which sought to transform the way policy makers thought about global health, The Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health and Sustainable Development launched in 2018 aimed to seize the opportunity offered by the Sustainable Development Goals to consider future directions for global mental health. As a response to this, we’ve launch the first-ever independent monitoring and accountability mechanism for global mental health, Countdown Global Mental Health 2030.

We’re delighted to be working with HSBC, their truly global scale means the conversation on mental health will be opened up to so many more. Not only are they breaking the silence but this week they launch a global mental health education programme, accessible to their 238,000 employees, across 65 markets. The programme has grown out of a conversation started by its employees, who said they want to be able to talk more openly about mental health and is aimed at helping employees identify signs of poor mental health and equipping them with the information and tools to help other colleagues where necessary.

This week we also celebrate the fact that Speak Your Mind campaigners are already making history. Thanks to the joint efforts of Sierra Leone campaigners and the Mental Health Coalition, the Government is announcing this week a review of the Lunacy Act from 1902, which has promoted the involuntary incarceration of people with mental health conditions. In October 2020, a new bill will be taken to parliament to vote on, guaranteeing the right of every citizen to mental health support. We’re inspired by this incredible announcement, which shows that when you unite and Speak Your Mind, people across the world can make a difference on mental health.

When I first set out to establish United for Global Mental Health, people from all around the world told me what should be built. A coming together of everyone fighting to improve global mental health, so that leaders could see the change that is needed. This week on the lawn of the United Nations in New York surrounded by leaders from government, business and across society – the momentum was palpable. To borrow a line from a famous Broadway show, ‘this is a movement, not a moment’. One that is unstoppable. The question is: will you join the mental health revolution?

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