Making Mental Health a Development Priority

Washington DC, USA
13-14th of April

Earlier this month we attended a two-day event on mental health hosted by the World Bank and World Health Organization. For the first time finance ministers, international and intergovernmental agencies, the business community, civil society and technology innovators gathered with the aim of moving mental health into the mainstream of the global development agenda. The event discussed the expected economic, health and social returns of investing in mental health.

A high level keynote panel featuring WB president Jim Yong Kim, WHO director-general Margaret Chan and Canadian Minister of Finance Bill Morneau reaffirmed the central importance of mental health as a health and development priority and the need for collective, intersectoral action.

The event kicked off with the Innovation Fair, showcasing new effective, replicable and sustainable approaches and policies in countries of all income levels. We found the programs being implemented in Brazil and Lebanon to be perfect examples of the attempt to bridge the gap between economic development and the population’s wellbeing.

Mental health issues impose a tremendous disease burden on societies across the world and countries are not investing sufficient resources to tackle them. While developed countries assign just 5{d5ddf917caf91325942f655962486ab4022264126c8f7d65fee0185ee24282ff} of their budget to mental health, developing countries destine only 0.5{d5ddf917caf91325942f655962486ab4022264126c8f7d65fee0185ee24282ff}. The human and financial costs of failing to address mental health are enormous, estimated at 1 trillion USD.

On this regard, Dr. Dan Chisholm (WHO) discussed a new study on the global return of investing in mental health funded by Grand Challenges Canada. Results show a 5 to 1 return on investment for global treatment of depression. This means that every US dollar invested in treating depression and anxiety yields 4 USD in better health and the ability to work.

These numbers prove that investing in mental health makes sense both socially and economically. Low-cost, cost-effective solutions are currently available and more are being developed and tested through pilot programs in different countries.

One of the highlights of the event was when former United States Congressman Patrick Kennedy shared his personal struggle with mental health disorders and made a potent speech on mental health parity as a human right and the necessity to fight and end the stigma. Mr. Kennedy is the lead sponsor of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of the United States.

A voice was also given to service users at the reception, when representatives of adolescent and youth groups inspired the audience with their powerful personal stories. They shared their struggles with different mental illnesses and explained how they decided to become advocates for mental health to overcome the stigma.

On April 15 we also attended a side-event organized by Grand Challenge Canada and the National Institute of Mental Health (US). The event explored policy, funding and research opportunities for sustaining momentum in advancing mental health care globally.

We are confident that this global event raised awareness on the importance of investing in mental health. Our foundation is looking forward to continuing its work and making a solid impact. We hope that other stakeholders will join us in implementing a global, multisectoral effort to scale up mental health services.

Here is a link to the video created by the World Bank and WHO for the “Out of the Shadows: Making Mental Health a Development Priority” event. You can visit the source page here.