Mental Health Information Systems: A FundaMental Challenge

As stakeholders prepare for the next round of intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) later this May, the FundaMental SDG campaign has posted an eleventh-hour call to action. FundaMental SDG advocates for mental health to be explicitly highlighted in goal statement 3 and in two related targets (3.4 and 3.8), and for the United Nations Statistics Division to reconsider the evidence for feasibility, suitability and relevance of two mental health indicators (23 and 28).

The adoption of mental health indicators is crucial to the success of the FundaMental SDG campaign-- as the saying goes, “What gets measured gets done.” Unfortunately, inadequate mental health information systems in low- and middle-income countries has proven a major stumbling block. While there may be the political will to adopt mental health indicators, there may not be enough faith in our ability to monitor progress on a global scale.

In 2013 the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan set a target for 80% of member states to report on a core set of indicators every two years by 2020, and the World Health Organisation has offered technical guidance to help countries integrate mental health indicators into existing information systems. But the Mental Health Action Plan is non-binding, and technical expertise is only part of the problem.

In a recent Comment invited by The Lancet Psychiatry, colleagues from the MIND ME project (Mental health INformation systems and Monitoring and Evaluation) share three challenges the project has faced while developing a state-level mental health information system in central Nigeria. Perhaps the biggest challenge has been inadequate resources.

 Stakeholders from the Benue State Comprehensive Community Mental Health Programme review new mental health registers for piloting.

This is a “Catch-22” for global mental health. In the numbers-driven world of international development, we will struggle to put mental health on the global agenda, unless we commit resources to develop robust mental health information systems. But where will these resources come from, if not from the international development community?

MIND ME argues that we need SDG indicators for mental health precisely because so many countries have weak mental health information systems. The adoption of global indicators could help countries to better align the patchwork monitoring and evaluation efforts of individual projects and programmes, using existing resources more effectively to generate standardised, routine data on mental health at the national level. And as member states are held accountable for SDG indicators, more resources could be directed to information systems to track their progress-- as was the case for the Millennium Development Goals.

"Rather than suggest that the limited availability of data precludes the adoption of mental health indicators, we consider the FundaMental SDG campaign an important rallying cry to address this information gap." 

It may be difficult to convince the United Nations of the feasibility of adopting mental health indicators, given the current state of mental health information systems in low- and middle-income countries around the world. But we should not take the state of these systems as a given. Contact your country’s United Nations Ambassador on behalf of your organisation, and urge them to support indicators 23 and 28. Let’s close the mental health information gap.

Learn More

To learn about FundaMental SDG, read the blog series on Mental Health Innovation Network, check out @FundaMentalSDG and #FundaMentalSDG on Twitter, or go straight to the FundaMental SDG website for more.

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