All-Party Parliamentary Group advises NGOs to make mental health a priority

On 22 February 2016, nearly sixty people representing international non-governmental organisations (iNGOs), research and development funders and advocacy groups, crowded into a Committee Room of the United Kingdom’s Houses of Parliament for a heavily oversubscribed meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Global Health: Mental Health for Sustainable Development: The Role of iNGOs.

Participants leaned in doorways and perched on radiators as the #NGOs4MentalHealth campaign lit up on social media with over 300 tweets.

A small video screen in the back corner of the room alerted Rt. Hon. Normal Lamb MP—the meeting co-Chair and a staunch advocate of Parity of Esteem for mental health in the United Kingdom—that Prime Minister David Cameron was at that moment making a long-awaited announcement on the United Kingdom’s future as part of the European Union.

Lamb didn’t budge, much to the surprise of participants.

The purpose of this meeting, Lamb explained, was to revisit recommendations from the 2014 Joint APPG report Mental Health for Sustainable Development, which urged iNGOs to take a more active role in global mental health by:

  1. Ensuring that people living with mental health problems are included in existing development programmes
  2. Launching new development programmes specifically tailored to meet the needs of people living with mental health problems
  3. Measuring the impact of development programmes on mental health

He highlighted the tremendous economic burden placed on societies, citing projections that mental illness will cost the global economy $16.1 trillion US dollars in lost output by 2030. As low-income countries devote less than 1% of national health budgets to mental health, the need for non-governmental support is critical in order to address mental health as a key component of the global development agenda.

Lamb described the inclusion of mental health in the Sustainable Development Goals as a breakthrough, arguing that NGOs and other partners in health and development have a moral obligation to act—urgently.

"Our job now is to make sure we follow the evidence and make a difference."


-Rt. Hon. Norman Lamb MP, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health

Lamb introduced four presenters from iNGOs that have already made mental health central to their programming in low- and middle-income countries around the world, to share their experiences.

Jess McQuail from BasicNeeds International echoed the need for immediate action. “If you make a difference in mental health, you can make a difference across many sectors,” she argued, citing improvements in economic outcomes realised through implementation of BasicNeeds’ mental health and development model in 12 countries. “We’re at a tipping point… there’s a real chance now to make some seismic change. Join us,” she urged.

Mark Jordans, representing War Child Holland, reflected on the role of NGOs in global mental health. “NGOs are particularly well-positioned to provide access for underserved populations,” he observed, citing the high prevalence of mental illness among children in war-affected regions, which may range from 10-20%, or even as high as 40%. “NGOs can build sustainable care programmes and serve as brokers for change," but they must position themselves at the nexus of policy, research and practice to ensure that the mental health needs of underserved populations are met.

"It's time to bring mental health out of the shadows. Come and join us."


-Jess McQuail, BasicNeeds International

"We are focusing on an integrated approach to address mental health."


-Mark Jordans, War Child Holland

Inka Weissbecker from International Medical Corps (IMC) described mental health as “a cornerstone of our work, from emergency relief to sustained development”, explaining how NGOs can leverage short-term investment to help build better mental health systems for the future. In IMC’s case, this involves integrating mental health into general healthcare and training non-specialists to address the shortage of mental health workers. “When we talk about strengthening health systems, mental health has to be a part of it,” she urged.

Julian Eaton from the disability-focused organisation CBM International wrapped up the presentations with powerful words on “making inclusion a reality”—in programmes, agendas and even in the indicators that NGOs use to measure progress—to ensure that “no one is left behind”. Eaton closed by encouraging NGOs to join the #FundaMentalSDG campaign in advocating for mental health indicators to be attached to the SDGs, as “what gets measured, gets done”.

"Mental health is a cross-cutting issue."


-Inka Weissbecker, International Medical Corps


"How do we make inclusion a reality? Scale up and integrate services."


-Julian Eaton, CBM International

Lord Nigel Crisp, co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health, took over for Lamb to moderate the lively discussion that ensued as participants raised questions for the presenters. Two major concerns were voiced by multiple participants: the lack of standardised, universally accepted indicators to monitor and evaluate mental health across the life-course, across countries and across sectors; and the paucity of research and development funding for mental health, which is often administered in short funding cycles that do not allow sufficient time to demonstrate substantial change, particularly in mental health promotion and prevention.

The Mental Health Innovation Network issued a questionnaire at the meeting, to better understand these challenges and potential solutions, in preparation for a technical workshop to be held the following day at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Lord Crisp emphasised the importance of using these responses and the opportunity afforded by the technical workshop to define a clear and concrete “Call to Action” for the NGO community, which will be launched at the upcoming World Bank-World Health Organisation meeting on mental health this April: "The more strategic you can make the call to action, the better."

"All health is a priority, including mental health."


-Lord Nigel Crisp, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health

To conclude the meeting, Lord Crisp invited each of the speakers to sum up their presentations in a single sentence. Their message was simple:

Join us.

Development of this “Call to Action” is ongoing. Keep up-to-date with new developments via social media #NGOs4MentalHealth or send us a message at MHIN.

Policy and legislation
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