Winter updates

WHO Mental Health Forum 2019

The WHO Mental Health Forum 2019 entitled, “Enhancing Country Action on Mental Health” marked the presentation of WHO’s Special Initiative for Mental Health (2019-2023): Universal Health Coverage for Mental Health. The vision of this special initiative is to ensure access to quality and affordable care for mental health conditions in 12 priority countries for an additional 100 million people by 2023. WHO aims to do this by strengthening the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, reducing suicide mortality by 15%, and increasing coverage of severe mental health conditions by 50%.

Also highlighted at the Forum was the launch of the WHO mhGAP community toolkit (field testing version). The toolkit provides guidance for community providers to promote mental health, prevent mental health conditions, and expand access to mental health services. Attendees expressed enthusiasm for the toolkit and WHO noted that next steps include field-testing and collecting case studies. Specific in-depth sessions were dedicated to the Minimum Services Package for mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian settings, WHO’s integrated approach to brain health, and WHO QualityRights initiative (which we are currently supporting in Ghana).

The Forum touched on WHO’s 40 second of action campaign on suicide prevention which lasted throughout the month of October. The campaign served as a call on all people to engage in an activity related to suicide prevention, whether that be initiating a conversation with someone struggling or sharing a message of hope to social media. At the Forum, Alexandra Fleischman (WHO) shared that 38 countries have suicide prevention strategies and noted the work needed to reach the SDG targets.

You can read more about the campaign by clicking here.

To learn more about WHO’s 2019 Mental Health Forum visit


International Conference on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Crisis Situations

As a follow up to the first Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit held in 2018 in the UK, the International Conference on Mental Health was hosted by Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Sigrid Kaag in Amsterdam, Netherlands on Monday, October 7th. One of Kaag’s objectives in hosting the conference was to scale up sustainable high-quality MHPSS during and after crisis situations while mobilizing commitments from countries and organizations. Among attendees were policymakers, ministers, donors, MHPSS experts, and individuals with lived experience.

More than 70 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide and while 20% of people affected by a humanitarian crisis need psychological care, only 2% have access. Participants stressed that emergencies such as armed conflicts and natural disasters take an immense toll on the mental health and psychosocial well-being of those impacted. While these effects are difficult to quantify, best estimates suggest that these experiences more than double the prevalence of psychosocial and mental health disorders that affect daily functioning. However, when and if provided with the appropriate support, people reveal an extraordinary capacity to overcome prior trauma and hardship.

The conference culminated in an official declaration endorsed by high-level participants. The declaration outlines several recommendations such as the scaling up of MHPSS during and after emergencies, facilitating and encouraging community-based MHPSS, and ensuring that a dedicated proportion of health and social service budgets focus on MHPSS for children of different ages.

For more information on the conference please visit:

You can also view a compilation of stories, interviews, pictures and tweets from the event by visiting:


Fondazione Internazionale Don Luigi di Liegro hosts S.O.S. Giovani Conference in Rome

Adolescence is a unique but at times also challenging developmental period that some youth struggle to cope with. On a biological and neurobiological level, this phase involves a profound transformation. According to WHO, 1 out of 5 adolescents suffers from a mental disorder today, a trend that is expected to grow in years to come. Concurrently, youth face the risk of substance abuse during such a difficult time. Today, the correlation between addictions to substances and pathological behavioral addictions represent a social emergency that requires action. Rapid technological advancements and their cultural and social repercussions add additional potential risk factors for youth both in local communities and on a global scale. Fondazione di Liegro along with several other stakeholders, national and international experts addressed these issues hosting the “S.O.S Giovani” conference in Rome.

On the topic of substance abuse, several experts presented their findings and research. Alessandro Vento, president of the Associazione Osservatorio sulle Dipendenze, introduced a new software web-crawler ‘nps-finder,’ which has the capability of discovering new psychoactive substances available in the online market. Compared with the 800 substances identified by officials, the software has identified about 4’000 new substances within the first two years of its operation. Marta di Forti*, psychiatrist and researcher, discussed her findings on the role of cannabis and how it has changed overtime. Her research has shown the correlation between more frequent daily use of high potency cannabis and the beginning of psychotic episodes. Emanuele Scafato, Director at the WHO Centre for Research on Alcohol and of the National Observatory on Alcohol (NOA), emphasized that alcohol dependency is the largest cause of death among young people In Italy. He underscored that the only possible way to overcome this is through awareness raising and training.

New epidemics such as internet dependency and the hikkimori phenomena, which affects mostly young men, were also discussed. Hikkimori causes severe social withdrawal leading most sufferers to isolate themselves in their bedroom, in some cases for up to years at a time.


Education and art were proposed as precious tools for the rehabilitative and social inclusion interventions of adolescents and young people facing these types of issues. As Fabrizio Starace, President of the Italian Society of Psychiatric Epidemiology, highlighted, it is necessary that the health and public sector identify ways to target adolescents who need support as soon as possible. Integrated and multidisciplinary units must be structured to face the multifaceted problems faced by adolescents today.

We thank Fondazione di Liegro for its great effort in organizing this stimulating and informative conference and for being at the forefront of issues regarding mental health in adolescence.

*Marta di Forti is a psychiatrist and researcher of psychology and neuroscience at the King’s College of London






Checking in with our partners working with adolescents and teens

For most youth, the period from childhood to young adulthood is difficult enough. When you add a mental health disorder on top of this already stressful time, youth experience deeply personal and conflicting emotions.

Recently, we attended one of the mental health sessions facilitated by our partner Fundatia Inocenti at Avram Iancu High School in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Three psychologists from the Fundatia team helped students to better understand the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders as well as how to face such challenges. We were touched by the interventions and emotions conveyed by teens and by their awareness of the issues. “We should talk about how we feel, express our emotions, and mostly we should not ignore the signs. When needed, we should ask for help” one teen stated.




We are looking forward to hearing these amazing teens again during the next mental health awareness session! Thanks to Fundatia Inocenti – Romanian Children’s Relief for their impressive work promoting mental health in high schools and providing teens with the resources necessary to develop healthy coping mechanisms early on.