Putting Global Mental Health on the Agenda

Written by Christian Ulrich Eriksen, MScGH, & Jane Brandt Sørensen, PhD Fellow

Edited by Sinéad O’Ferrall & Helen Myrr


The University of Copenhagen’s School of Global Health is conducting a one-day seminar: “Who works on Global Mental Health in Denmark – an exploratory stakeholder seminar” on Wednesday, 21 October 2015 at Center for Sundhed og Samfund (Health and Society). While focus and resources remain scarce for mental health in the international development agenda, international or transnational coordinated efforts are even scarcer.

The objective of the seminar is to kick-start the debate on this lack of response and to hopefully gather concrete tools for advancing the agenda. As part of this exercise University of Copenhagen’s School of Global Health will map stakeholders in Denmark – NGOs, policy makers, academics, journalists, health professionals, students and others – with a Global Mental Health focus as (part of) their agenda. In doing so, we hope to provide a starting point for strengthening and establishing new avenues of collaboration and move forward in increasing awareness about the topic in Denmark and beyond.

In the run up to the seminar, we have gathered a collection of informative and inspirational resources on global mental health, which hopefully will instigate fruitful discussions and prove useful in understanding some of the dilemmas and opportunities in working on these issues.

Social determinants of mental health

The World Health Organization estimates that mental and substance use disorders directly account for around 7% of the global disease burden. Mental Health conditions bring grave implications on the quality of life for the affected and their surroundings, and especially in low- and middle-income countries they bring serious challenges to already strained healthcare systems. In these settings poor mental health is oftentimes exacerbated or triggered by already stressful and challenging life-situations, which can be due to poverty, physical health issues and disasters, making prevention and response highly complex and multifaceted. The following short film on pesticide self-poisoning in a rural area of Sri Lanka, clearly highlights the complex nature of mental illnesses.

NCDFREE Sri Lanka Video

The resource gap

The largest challenges faced by many low and middle income countries in dealing with the increasing burden of mental illnesses are the paucities of both mental health care professionals and services available to people with mental illnesses. Mental health services are, especially in low and middle income countries, not allocated the needed resources to cater to the need for treatment and prevention. Thus, new approaches need to be sought and attention drawn to the topic to combat the challenges faced. In the TED-talk below, the psychiatrist and mental health care advocate, Vikram Patel, shares his views on how to approach global mental health.

Vikram Patel’s Ted Talk 

Putting mental health on the agenda

Though the focus on mental health is increasing, it is still rarely brought up in the popular media, which further removes the issue from the political agenda. The following clip is an exception to this, and it showcases how mental health issues can be mediated to the general public in a nuanced and informative way.

John Oliver report on Mental Health 

Further readings

If you are inspired to do some more reading, we recommend this special section in the journal Transcultural Psychiatry, which has a specific focus on communities and mental health, as well as the Lancet series on Mental Health from 2007  and 2011.

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