Mental health community joins WHO/Europe for 2-day consultation on reform

WHO/Europe recently connected mental health representatives from more than half of the 53 Member States of the WHO European Region to trigger action for mental health. A 2-day consultation aimed at comprehensive reform of the Region’s mental health systems brought together over 150 participants from as far away as the UK in the west to Kyrgyzstan in the east.

Participants consulted virtually on topics ranging from the use of digital mental health services to plans for mental health care funding reform. Panelists highlighted the need to improve mental health literacy and listen to people with lived experience of mental health issues. Mr Nikolay Negay, Mental Health Consultant for the WHO Country Office in Kazakhstan, highlighted the powerful effects of stigma on mental health and development.

Mental health has been a rallying point for countries in the Region in recent years, particularly following the COVID-19 pandemic, which exposed many gaps in mental health systems. In 2021, WHO/Europe responded to these calls with a plan for comprehensive mental health reform in national health systems over the next 5 years. This consultation was a first foray into the process of transforming this plan into action.

To take part

The consultation tested the Pan-European Mental Health Coalition, the broad collaboration launched by WHO/Europe to promulgate the European Mental Health Framework for Action 2021-2025. The framework was enthusiastically endorsed by all Member States at the 71st session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe in September 2021.

Over the 2 days, more than 30 panelists discussed how to implement the 3 central themes of the Framework: transforming mental health services; integrating mental health into emergency preparedness, response and recovery; and mental health promotion for all ages.

The Coalition will hold its first official meeting the first week of May 2022, with plans to develop and pilot 3 of its 6 work packages by the end of the year. Related work in 2022 will include the launch of a new program focusing on child and adolescent mental health at the WHO Quality of Care Office in Athens in March, a youth forum on mental health in Albania in June and a series of events on transforming mental health. health services in the Western Balkans and Northern Mediterranean in June and September 2022.

“What was conceptualized more than 2 years ago when we designed the European work program – making mental health a flagship of this office – is now materializing into a network for sharing experiences and resources”, said Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, in his opening address.

Meanwhile, mental health advocate, Mr Neil Kelders, urged participants to remember what they could do and to take action, because “if you don’t change anything, nothing changes”.