The Mental Health Innovation Network: why it matters now
Building communities of practice is not new to public health. Or even mental health. There are great examples of expert and advocate networks catering to the professional and educational needs of mental health stakeholders such as the UK’s Mental Health Network (supporting service providers within the UK’s National Health Service), and Canada’s EENet (providing a platform for communication and evidence exchange in Mental Health across the state of Ontario). These are tailored to the particular needs of those communities. So what about the global mental health community? Could it benefit from a similar network?
The global mental health community is growing rapidly, not least due to an increasing public awareness about the unmet needs of people affected by mental health problems and the investment by governments and donors in supporting actions to improve access to care and promote the human rights of persons with mental health problems. Guided by landmark priority setting initiatives such as the Grand Challenges in Global Mental Health in 2011, donors like Grand Challenges Canada (who support the Mental Health Innovation Network) and the NIMH are leading the way not just by making a financial commitment to innovation but also supporting efforts to maximise the impact this funding can have through improved networking and knowledge translation. There are nascent networks developing within the field, and with other global health priority fields such as maternal health, early child development, and HIV/AIDS, and an increasing recognition of the need to embed mental health within the NCD agenda.
This growth has led a flowering of innovations aimed at mental health promotion, prevention, treatment and care services across the globe – and in particular in low and middle income settings. It has become critically important to synthesize the knowledge generated by these innovators and to communicate this effectively to a wide range of stakeholders, from implementers to researchers, from policy makers to advocates, with the goal of bringing the benefits of these innovations to larger numbers of people. The Mental Health Innovation Network (MHIN) aims to achieve these precise objectives in a number of ways, for example through sharing innovations, getting people talking and providing the right information to the right people in the right way. The demand for knowledge is very large indeed, fuelled by the strong commitment shown by countries in adopting the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020 in the World Health Assembly in 2013.
Case studies detailing how and why innovations in mental health have been successful provide invaluable knowledge for implementation and to advocate for the field. The WISH conference in December 2013 and resulting Global Mental Health report was an example of the contribution of MHIN to this goal. Through the report, twelve outstanding mental health innovations were promoted to a wide audience of decision makers. Accessing the right people can be difficult. In a new and fast-moving sector like global mental health, supporting people to identify the networks they want to engage with can make a huge difference. MHIN’s website allows each member to build up a profile of their interests, their expertise and their academic and professional outputs. Effective knowledge transfer is fundamental to achieving impact. MHIN’s team works to identify, synthesise and package global mental health research and disseminate it to relevant audiences. MHIN also aims to build links between individuals and groups, providing mechanisms by which individuals and organisations can profile what they do and build their own networks. MHIN attempts to build on other similar efforts and neither duplicate nor compete with them.
Ultimately, the success of MHIN will lie with its users, those who are committed to the vision of global mental health, to contribute to, engage with and utilize its resources. In doing so, MHIN hopes to become the ‘go-to’ resource for global mental health innovators of all hues, and contribute to the dream of transforming lives and building communities committed to mental health around the world.