A landmark year for global mental health

For the field of global mental health, 2016 has been a landmark year. We celebrated the official launch of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which explicitly targets mental health and well-being under Goal 3. In April, the week of the spring meeting held annually in Washington, D.C. by The World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund, world leaders like Jim Yong Kim and Margaret Chan joined forces to bring mental health "Out of the Shadows".  And just a few weeks ago, the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GADCD) dedicated its fourth call for applications entirely to mental health research-- GACD's largest investment in any field to-date.

These are just a few of the remarkable developments that have challenged MHIN to keep pace this year. We added over 1,000 new members and 500 Twitter followers in just six months, posted an average of five blogs per week, and visited seven different countries across four continents. We said goodbye to several of the founding members of the MHIN team, whose hard work and vision are largely responsible for the success of this network to-date. But we also welcomed talented new individuals whose fresh ideas and exceptional expertise are already leaving their mark.

We all have special moments from the past year working on MHIN that we'd like to celebrate and remember going forward, but here are my personal "Top 10" highlights.

1. Innovation Fair (April 2016)

On April 13th, MHIN co-organized an Innovation Fair as part of the landmark "Out of the Shadows: Making Mental Health a Global Development Priority" meeting, co-hosted by The World Bank Group and World Health Organization in Washington, D.C. The purpose was to demonstrate to world leaders that it is possible to deliver effective and affordable mental health care, even in low-resource settings. Funded by the Wellcome Trust with contributions from Grand Challenges Canada and the United States National Institute of Mental Health, the Fair featured 48 innovations from around the globe and attracted hundreds of attendees. 67% of the innovators who participated in our follow-up survey said they made 10 or more new connections at the Innovation Fair, and over 70% said they met at least one policy-maker-- paving the way for new partnerships to help translate innovation into policy and practice.

2. MHIN Africa Launch (November 2016)

This November, several events were held live in Cape Town, South Africa and online to celebrate the launch of MHIN's first regional network, MHIN Africa. Operating out of the Alan J. Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health at the University of Cape Town with support from our global team, MHIN Africa aims to address the most pressing needs of mental health stakeholders in Africa. Since the launch, over one hundred innovators have signed up as new members-- many after visiting the busy MHIN Africa booth at this year's World Psychiatric Association International Congress. Now members can sign up to a special MHIN Africa newsletter, connect on the MHIN Africa forum, and follow MHIN Africa on Facebook and Twitter-- for the most relevant, up-to-date information on what's happening in their own backyards.

3. Joint All-Party Parliamentary Group Meeting (February 2016)

On February 22nd, nearly sixty people squeezed into a Committee Room of the United Kingdom's Houses of Parliament for a heavily oversubscribed joint meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) for Global Health and Mental Health. The purpose of the meeting was to revisit recommendations from the 2014 Joint APPG report Mental Health for Sustainable Development, which urged non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to take a more active role in the field of global mental health. The meeting was accompanied by a successful #NGOs4MentalHealth campaign on social media, and followed by a workshop at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine where NGOs drafted a consensus Call to Action, which has since been signed by over 400 supporters and formally endorsed by nearly two dozen non-profit organizations.

4. Stakeholder engagement workshops (March and May, 2016)

In the spring of 2016, partners at MHIN and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) carried out field visits to two Grand Challenges Canada Transition to Scale grantees: FaNs for Kids in Pakistan (March) and Atmiyata in India (May). Each visit included a capacity-building workshop, during which innovators were guided through a number of hands-on practicals based on ODI's Rapid Outcome Assessment Toolkit. The workshops were followed by meetings with key decision-makers, in which lessons in effective stakeholder engagement were put to the test-- with exciting results.

5. mhGAP Forum (October 2016)

In October, the World Health Organization's mental health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP), currently in use in dozens of countries around the world, published mhGAP 2.0-- a critical update building on six years of learning since the 2010 release. The annual mhGAP Forum held on World Mental Health Day in Geneva brought innovators and policy-makers together to discuss the future of mhGAP 2.0 and how to meet the objectives of the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan by 2020. For the MHIN team, it was an exciting opportunity to connect with a growing, global community of practice joining forces to scale up evidence-based care.

6. Stories of Change (December 2016)

Since 2015, MHIN has been working in collaboration with ODI and with innovators from Grand Challenges Canada's global mental health portfolio to collect stories of successful policy change from low- and middle-income countries. The result is part educational, part inspirational: a report that explores common themes across six stories from vastly different countries and contexts, while also celebrating the single-minded determination of individual innovators, many of whom have been working tirelessly in this field for decades to effect change.

7. Launch of the "Ask the Policy Expert" series (March 2016)

In March we launched a new "Ask the Policy Expert" series with a webinar by Rabih El Chammay, Head of the National Mental Health Programme from Lebanon's Ministry of Public Health. Rabih El Chammay has since been followed by Tedla Wolde-Georgis from Ethiopia, Ella Arensman from Ireland, Yeshi Wangdi from Bhutan, and Cinthia Lociks de Araújo from Brazil. Each webinar in this series focuses on country-level implementation of one of the objectives of the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan. Together, they offer a fascinating snapshot of policy change happening in five very different countries around the world.

8. Screening tools for common mental disorders (June 2016)

One of the most common questions we hear from innovators is how to systematically identify and measure symptoms of common mental disorders like depression and anxiety in low- and middle-income countries, where mental health specialists are often few and far between. Unfortunately there is no "one-size fits all" approach, and few innovators have the resources and expertise necessary to develop and validate new tools tailored for the unique context in which they are working. So we undertook a systematic review to provide a comprehensive database of screening tools for common mental disorders which have been validated in low- and middle-income countries, compare their performance, and make general recommendations for that all-too-common scenario where no validated tools are currently available. The review was published in PLoS Medicine in June.

9. Return on investment in mental health (October 2016)

At October's Grand Challenges meeting in London, Dr. Dixon Chibanda and MHIN's Dan Chisholm presented a return on investment analysis of the Friendship Bench project in Zimbabwe, urging others to follow suit and demonstrate not just the effectiveness of their innovations, but also their monetary value. We've since released Mental Health Return on Investment: A Primer as a resource on MHIN, to help innovators make a better case for investment by governments and other funders. 

10. Reaching 3,000+ members (December 2016)

We observed it quietly and without much fanfare, but watching our membership exceed 3,000 this month was one of the most exciting moments of 2016 for the MHIN team. The website turned two years old this August, and already it's home to a large and vibrant online community-- bigger and better than anything we'd ever imagined. So I'll end here by saying thank you to the MHIN community, for keeping us on our toes and for making 2016 a rousing success. Now, on to 2017!

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