The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on so many different elements of daily life — it’s not just about accessing good physical health, but about accessing care, water and sanitation, education and accurate information, and much more.
And while the pandemic has caused countless negative effects, one positive thing to come from it is that people are now talking, more than ever, about health — including mental health, which is so often forgotten and stigmatized around the world.
Those conversations can act as a great starting point when it comes to tackling mental health worldwide, but campaigners like Elisha London, the founder and CEO of United for Global Mental Health, say that talking is not enough.
“Now is the moment for our voices to come together and call on the world to move and invest in mental health for all,” London told Global Citizen. “Globally, there is not enough movement on mental health.”
Almost 1 billion people live with a mental disorder and people with severe mental health disorders are likely to die 10-20 years earlier than the rest of the population, according to London. She also says that almost 800,000 people die by suicide every year — it is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 29 years old.
That is why United for Global Mental Health organized the first virtual March for Mental Health, kicking off on Friday, Oct. 9, ahead of World Mental Health Day on Saturday. It will include a Facebook live event with 24 hours of content from 18 countries, with discussions led by organizations tackling LGBTQ+ issues, inclusion, dementia, youth, and humanitarian crises.
“One of the single most powerful ways to bring about change is for people to stand side by side and send a united message to those in power. Activism is powerful,” London said. “Human progress has been powered by movements of people who are prepared to stand up and be counted. Mental health hasn’t yet had this movement — and it’s up to us to build it.”
People who choose to “march” can use the organization's filters on Instagram and Facebook by taking a video and including the #MoveForMentalHealth tag — this will place you virtually “side-by-side” with all the other mental health activists taking part in the event.
United for Global Mental Health partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Federation for Mental Health this year to launch the official World Mental Health Day 2020 campaign. Its theme is #MoveForMentalHealth: Let’s Invest.
Are you ready to #MoveForMentalHealth? 💃— United for Global Mental Health (@UnitedGMH) September 28, 2020
Join the next #MHforAll webinar with @gospeakyourmind@WHO & @WFMH_Official on what's happening this #WMHD2020 & how you can get involved.
Tomorrow 14:00 BST 👉 https://t.co/sZ1eHITStZpic.twitter.com/5KURPGo2Hv
“Global action on mental health is stagnant. We need real movement on mental health funding and access to services, so that everyone, everywhere has someone to turn to when their mental health needs support,” London said.
Mental health disorders are prominent around the world, but many people lack access to the health care they need to address them. In low- and middle-income countries, more than 75% of people with mental health conditions receive no treatment, according to London.
And while counties spend only an average of 2% of their health budgets on mental health, for every $1 invested in improved treatment for common disorders like depression and anxiety, there is a return of $5 in improved health and productivity, according to the WHO.
This explains why the campaign is focused on the need for investment, especially during the era of COVID-19.
“World Mental Health Day is an opportunity for the world to come together and begin redressing the historic neglect of mental health,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said in a press release.
“We are already seeing the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s mental well-being, and this is just the beginning,” he continued. “Unless we make serious commitments to scale up investment in mental health right now, the health, social, and economic consequences will be far-reaching.”
London hopes that Friday’s event will see people around the world using their voices to call on world leaders to commit funding to the cause — and that world leaders will answer in turn.
The United Nations’ Global Goal 3 aims to ensure good health and well-being for all by 2030 — but in order to do that, barriers to mental health care must also be addressed.
According to London, there could be 60 million fewer cases of anxiety, depression, and epilepsy between now and 2030 if funding was increased to the appropriate levels.
“We’re encouraging everyone around the world to join in with this campaign. Through moving however you wish — playing sport, going for a walk, joining in the TikTok dance challenge, or marching for change — join us and #MoveForMentalHealth,” London said. “Now is the moment for our voices to come together and call on the world to invest in mental health.”