Mental Health

What young people can teach world leaders about mental health in 2020

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The global movement to tackle the mental health crisis gained significant momentum in 2019 - what's next? Image: Newscast Online

Naeem Dalal
Jazz Thornton
Founder, The Voices of Hope
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Mental Health

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • With 75% of mental health challenges starting in adolescence, young people are leading the way in youth mental health treatment, services and support;
  • Nationally led but globally united initiatives are creating real change in the levels of support provided for mental ill-health and at a policy level;
  • The World Economic Forum's Global Shapers community's Speak Your Mind campaign calls on all countries to increase financing and public education for mental health, and ensure quality systems of care.

The global movement to tackle the mental health crisis gained significant momentum in 2019. Leading this movement are young people from all over the world, themselves experts by experience of all types of mental ill-health.

With 75% of mental health challenges starting in adolescence, the need for investment in youth mental health treatment, services and support is stark. We need investment from the ground up, but many clinical services are ill-equipped and over-burdened – if they exist at all.

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All over the world, non-governmental organisations, campaigners and mental health experts by experience are coming together to bridge the gap in mental health support. Innovative community solutions from Zambia to South Africa and Morocco to New Zealand are leading the way in the provision of innovative and invaluable support.

Breaking down barriers in peer mental health counselling

World Economic Forum Global Shapers from the Casablanca Hub have led a global initiative to train other Shapers to provide mental health peer counselling through a model that adapts to local and linguistic contexts.

The initiative uses video conference calls and in-person training to break down geographical barriers and open channels of support to a truly global audience. Training is provided by the Friendship Bench and INUKA organization led by Dr Dixon Chibanda, a psychiatrist from Zimbabwe and contributor to the 2019 Annual Meeting in Davos.

So far through this initiative, which only launched in September 2019, World Economic Forum Global Shapers have reached 10,000 young people with mental health support in six languages. The project is set to expand in 2020.

Empowering mental health through emotional intelligence

In Zambia, I founded a community initiative called Ganizo which trains young people in psychological first aid and emotional intelligence.

The programme promotes school and community preventative health by empowering youth participation, peer support and involvement. It delivers “Train the Trainer” provision, a buddy network and culturally sensitive conversations and events, tailored for young people in their respective regions. Ganizo also provides access to existing mental health resources and research by translating and sharing information and education locally.

Using #SurfTherapy to cope with trauma and stress

Aviwe Funani, a Global Shaper from the Cape Town Hub, works with Waves for Change – an organization that helps young people develop skills to cope with trauma and stress through access to the ocean, caring mentors and weekly surf therapy sessions.

Waves for Change works with children aged 10-14 living in highly volatile areas who have been exposed to adverse childhood events. Through the sessions, 87% of the children who participate report improvements in their coping skills.

Nationally led, globally united action

Shortly after the 2019 Annual Meeting in Davos, Global Shapers were represented alongside young campaigners and mental health experts from 15 countries at an unprecedented gathering to agree how to coordinate global action

Naeem Dalal, Global Shapers Lusaka Hub
Naeem Dalal, Global Shapers Lusaka Hub

They created Speak Your Mind – the first global campaign demanding government action on mental health.

Speak Your Mind is a nationally led but globally united: national campaigners run their own campaigns, tailored to local contexts and needs, but come together at critical global moments, such as the World Health Assembly and UN General Assembly, to speak with a united voice.

While the exact needs and challenges are different, Speak Your Mind wants all countries to take action to ensure:

  • Quality systems of care that are rights-based and designed in collaboration with those with lived experience;
  • Increased financing for mental health on a national and international level;
  • Public education through wide-scale, government-led programmes.

The campaign has already had a number of successes in the past year:

  • The Sierra Leonean government committed to revise its Lunacy Act of 1902;
  • The Tongan government has developed its first-ever National Mental Health Policy and tripled its mental health budget;
  • The New Zealand government has announced it will spend a record NZ$1.9 billion on improving mental health in the next five years with its first wellbeing budget;
  • The Nigerian government has banned the dangerous Sniper pesticide, which was involved in the majority of suicides in the country in recent years.

In addition to this, major global funders and other organizations are listening to the global call for action and engaging with mental health in a far more comprehensive manner. The World Health Organization has established its Special Initiative for Mental Health, for example, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has included mental health as a Goalkeepers Accelerator for the first time.

World leaders are increasingly lending their voices to the movement.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern are among those world leaders to have already supported the #40seconds campaign. They have added their voices to Speak Your Mind’s 40-second voice petition and advocating for greater action on mental health.

Facts and figures on suicide
Facts and figures on suicide Image: WHO
Speak Your Mind voice petition

In 2020, young people, including the Global Shapers, community organizations and people who are experts by experience, will continue to drive the mental health movement through their incredible campaigning activity and formidable drive and will develop innovative mental health programmes in their own parts of the world.

At the Annual Meeting in 2020, the message to world leaders is loud and clear: last year, the world agreed to act on mental health and the grassroots movement of young people and community organizations is starting to make a difference; now is the time to invest in mental health so that everyone, everywhere has the support they need to reach their full potential.

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Related topics:
Mental HealthDavos AgendaGlobal HealthHealth and Healthcare
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