mhNOW initiative will leverage cities to close mental health gap

21 Sep 16

A city-driven initiative to close the global mental health gap was launched in New York yesterday, with hopes of capitalising on local networks to support the 450 million people affected worldwide.

The initiative, dubbed mhNOW, will engage local leaders in the public and private sectors, and civil society, to collaborate on the promotion and direction of local resources to priority mental health projects in 30 cities by 2030.

During the programme’s first year, work has been ongoing in cities across Africa, Asia and the US – including Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Bangalore, Da Nang, Philadelphia and Seattle.

The mental health gap affects hundreds of millions of people all over the world and stretches beyond the parameters of healthcare, into schools, workplaces and prisons. Yet it is gravely under-resourced.

The global cost of all mental health disorders is expected to reach $6tn by 2030, and make up more than half of the economic burden of disease over the next two decades.

“Mental health is humanity’s largest burden – one in four of us will experience mental illness sometime in our lives, and in developing countries, over 90% of people with mental illness receive no treatment,” highlighted Chris Underhill, co-lead of mhNOW and founder of Basic Needs, a mental health and epilepsy NGO.

“The good news is that proven strategies for cost-effective and high quality mental health treatment exist – we just need to activate them.”

Mental illness affects livelihoods, productivity and economies as a whole, and a statement outlining the initiative highlighted that a cross-sector approach was needed in order to close the mental health gap.

It will target cities in order to capitalise on their “inherent networks, density, creativity and entrepreneurial capacity”. Also, while they have the highest burden of mental health, they also have the most potential to achieve meaningful impact, mhNOW added.

The initiative is backed by a group of over 30 organisations including NGOs, such as Basic Needs, private companies like Johnson & Johnson, the World Bank, and the universities King’s College London and Harvard, among others.  

It will channel resources, recognition and technical assistance to high quality mental health projects in cities, and galvanise a range of local leaders to do the same.

“Our solution draws on untapped resources within communities, from community workers, to businesses, to youth, law and order officials and everywhere in between,” explained Moitree Sinha, co-lead of mhNOW and a director at the Global Development Incubator.

“We are flipping the current approach to mental health on its head – bringing together the right mix of people to activate bold local collective action on mental health by working with urban leaders on efficient, evidence-based policies and interventions.”

Meanwhile, the presidents of both France and South Africa have called for urgent investments globally to create new jobs in the health sector in order to prevent an anticipated shortfall of 19 million health workers, primarily in low- and middle-income countries.

The High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth, chaired by French president François Hollande and South African president Jacob Zuma, delivered a report on the issue to United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon.

It warned that ageing populations and increasing rates of disease were projected to generate demand for an additional 40 million health workers worldwide by 2030 – a doubling of the current global health workforce.

Investing in the health sector pays handsome dividends, it added, with returns on investments estimated to be 9 to 1.

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