Bridging the gap: Global Mental Health meets the Young Psychiatrists Network

Picture the scene: A beautiful bay with still turquoise waters. Greek sunshine. The light scent of lemons on the breeze, and of something deliciously Mediterranean being cooked.

We’re not here to get a tan though. Along with five other recent MSc Global Mental Health graduates, I had travelled to Greece this September to participate in a growing international forum for early career psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, the Young Psychiatrists Network. Despite having been founded only six years ago, this year’s meeting was attended by 157 delegates from 38 countries, who had travelled from across Europe, Asia, Africa and Australasia.

These young psychiatrists are the people who will be working in, and in some cases leading, mental health services around the world over the coming decades. Highly qualified and passionate about their work, they are precisely the people we need to have on board if the Global Mental Health movement is to succeed in closing the treatment gap.

And yet, the response when I explained that my area of research was Global Mental Health was usually a quizzical look of curiosity.

Thankfully, Professor Martin Prince, co-director of the Centre for Global Mental Health, and Professor Nick Bouras, Professor Emeritus at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, kindly agreed to join us to help introduce the YPN to the field. Professor Prince delivered an inspiring overview of “Achievements and Challenges in Global Mental Health”, while Professor Nick Bouras shared his “Reflections and Perspectives of Mental Health Services”. Three of the MSc graduates, Tatiana Los, Dzmitry Krupchanka and I, followed this with a symposium on “Universality vs. Diversity”, with the participation of the two Professors, to encourage discussion and reflection on transcultural approaches to mental health.

The aim of these sessions was to share some of the core ideas behind Global Mental Health and inspire this crucial audience to get involved. Given the shortage of human resources for mental health in many countries, much is riding on the concept of task-sharing, which requires a fundamental shift in the role of psychiatrists and other specialists, from delivering services to training and supervising non-specialist health workers. For this to occur, not only do those mental health professionals need to be aware of developments in Global Mental Health; they need to be convinced of both the need for this shift and the feasibility of doing so.

Over the course of four days and many discussions with international colleagues, it was evident that these ideas are still seen as far from the mainstream amongst young psychiatrists. Including Global Mental Health as a prominent topic of discussion in a forum such as this was one small step towards promoting dialogue and breaking down the silos that exist between different professional groups working to improve mental health. We hope that the connections forged will develop into collaborations, and that more conversations will follow between the Global Mental Health community and young psychiatrists from around the world.

When quizzical looks are no longer the standard response to saying you’re a Global Mental Health researcher, we’ll know we have succeeded in bridging the gap.

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