Mental Health for All: Leaving no one behind

A High Level event at the sidelines of the UNGA78

10 October 2023
A group photo

Thimphu, October 10, 2023: Delivering on the commitment to address mental health through people-centered mental health care primary care and community engagement, Bhutan observed the World Mental Health Day today to accelerate actions on mental health promotion and strengthening of services.

The observation follows the High Level event Bhutan hosted at the sidelines of 78th United Nation General Assembly  ‘Mental Health for All: Leaving No One Behind’ on September 19, 2023. The event was led by Queen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck of Kingdom of Bhutan and Queen Mathilde of Kingdom of Belgium in collaboration with the World Health Organization, UNICEF and United for Global Mental Health at UNICEF House in New York. The event was hosted to reaffirm the highest level of political commitment and action to ensure universal access to mental health care and support. 

Mental health is an issue of global concern, yet it remains stigmatized and underfunded in almost every country. It is estimated that 1 in every 8 people in the world (WHO), and 1 in every 7 adolescents aged 10-19 (UNICEF) are living with a mental disorder. Yet the global median of government health expenditure that goes to mental health is less than 2 per cent. In the South-East Asia Region, where a quarter of the world's population resides, one in seven individuals lives with some form of mental health condition. Even more alarmingly, significant treatment gaps of up to 90 per cent have been reported. The prevalence of mental disorders is estimated to be 12.2 per cent. YLD and DALYS due to mental, neurological and substance use disorders are 25.8 per cent and 11.6 per cent respectively (WHO Global Health Estimates 2019). And the burden of mental, neurological, substance use disorders and suicide (MNSS) in Bhutan is as high as 32.50 per cent. 

Foreign and External Trade Minister Dasho Dr Tandi Dorji delivered the keynote address on behalf of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen. In her address, Her Majesty stated “In Bhutan, the traditional lifestyle was shaped by the values of interdependence and harmony with nature, with contentment learned from spiritual practice. But today, as a small nation trying to cope with a rapidly changing world, we are also grappling with the pressures and demands of change and progress. This is taking an inevitable toll on the cultural practices of our society and subsequently, the mental wellbeing of the people."

Her Majesty Queen Mathilde of Belgium, stated,” People need to feel mentally well to live a  fulfilled life. Yet all around the world, mental health still lags behind as a policy priority. At the same  time, people with mental health conditions continue to face stigmatization and discrimination. As we  move forward in this rapidly changing world, it is imperative that we create a society that recognizes  the importance of mental well-being just as much as physical health.”

In a panel discussion along with the Minister of Health of Argentina, Judah Njoroge, Basic Needs Basic Rights Kenya, Minister of Development Cooperation of Belgium and  Dannyelle-Jordan Bailey, youth advocate, Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo presented the Paro Declaration, a commitment made by the health ministers of 10 countries of the South East Asia Region during the 75th Regional Committee Meeting of the WHO South-East Asia Region held in Paro, Bhutan.

The declaration  addresses mental health through a people-centered mental health primary care and community engagement approach. There is a publication from Hon’ble Health Minister Bhutan and other Ministers of the region in WHO Bulletin on “Paro Declaration: commitment to addressing mental health challenges in the South-east Asia Region.”

Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo said, “In line with our commitment to implement the Paro Declaration on people-centered mental health care at the regional level, the WHO South-East Asia Regional Office has formulated a comprehensive Regional Action Plan for Mental Health. This plan will serve as our overarching guide in the region to achieve the goals outlined in the Paro Declaration. Our focus guided by the compassionate leadership of Her Majesty The Gyaltshuen is on shifting away from institutionalized care and placing greater emphasis on community-based mental health services and support based on the principles of shared responsibilities and compassion. This reflects our aim to deliver comprehensive, accessible, and holistic mental health care services that truly meet the needs of individuals.

Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF Omar Abdi, said, “In June of this year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a historic resolution that recognized the significance of mental health to both sustainable development and human rights. As we look forward to the High-level Meetings on health later this week, we need to amplify that message. It is time to deliver. With renewed investment and action where it is most needed, we can unite to support better mental health for all, for generations to come.”

Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organisation Dr Jerome Salomon said, ““Mental health is far too often neglected in public health. Around the world, health systems have far fewer mental health resources than what is needed. Only two thirds of countries have a plan or strategy for mental health, and less than half, have one for children and youth. Far fewer have enough health workers who can identify and manage mental health conditions, especially for children and youth. This means that sadly, only one in eight adults and one in five young people are receiving the mental health care they need. We need more commitment, more action, and more impact.”

Speakers and panelists made the case for integrating mental health into Universal Health Coverage. They also highlighted the importance of a multisectoral approach through integrating budgets and services for mental health in education, child protection, primary health care, social welfare, justice, and sports, among other sectors. The event drew attention to the recently adopted  UN General Assembly Resolution on mental health, recommending how countries can transform this important declaration into action.

Moving forward, the PEMA Center will work with various agencies, development partners including civil society organizations to foster partnership and advocate for commitment and investment to place mental health and wellbeing at the center of development. Besides, priority will be placed on the implementation of people-centered, community-based mental health care and delivery built on primary health care. 

Click here for photos from the High Level Side Event 

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