[Q&A Blog Series #MentalHealthAwareness Month] Mental Health Leadership in Africa

This blog series highlights the importance of Leadership Programmes in global mental health in celebration of mental health awareness month and in anticipation of the upcoming Leadership Exchange in Stockholm. The International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership (IIMHL) are hosting this year’s Leadership Exchange with the theme ‘Building Bridges Beyond Borders’ from May 28th-June 1st in Stockholm. The Leadership Exchange is an international event for mental health leaders that takes place every year with the objective to facilitate bi-directional learning for effective mental health leadership initiatives and build networks that are mutually beneficial for leaders, organizations and countries.

For this series, we asked innovators from three influential Leadership Programmes to share their experiences regarding the type of skills participants enrolled in these modules acquire and the lessons they learned. This Q&A was directed at Woye Fadahunsi who is the Project Coordinator of the Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Programme in Nigeria.

1. What were the important key messages regarding mental health leadership from the course for attendees?

The key take-home message for our attendees was that mental health is not just a clinical issue and that there is a real need for a multidisciplinary approach, including advocacy, promotion and prevention. Another key message was the need for scaling up mental health services through integration in primary health care as a way to bridge the gap in service provision.

Course attendees were equipped with the skills and knowledge to advocate effectively on mental health issues with relevant government agencies and officials in order to  improve service provision and delivery of mental health services in their countries.

2. What have you done to cover the gaps in mental health leadership during the course?

The course is subject to regular review based on global trends in mental health and feedback from previous participants. Participants are asked to complete a course evaluation form at the end of each course and an overall evaluation form at the end of the training workshop.

All topics offered at the mental health leadership training course are geared towards preparing the participants for leadership roles in the global mental health field. This includes sessions on:

  • The burden of disease attributable to mental, neurological and substance use disorders
  • Health system financing
  • Culture and mental health
  • Communication and advocacy skills
  • Program evaluation
  • Mental health service planning
  • Development and implementation

3. How will the leaders who attended the course be able to bridge these gaps in their settings?

We consciously invite and sponsor more senior members and officials from the ministry of health to attend the course. After the course they are encouraged to join the established stakeholder’s council in their countries in order to create a more conducive working relationship between the mental health leadership and advocacy programme and relevant government agencies. This has also lead to the successful implementation of mhGAP – IG (mhGAP Intervention Guide) in some countries for scale-up mental health services including the ongoing WHO QualityRights tool implementation.

“The mhlap training was a very rewarding experience in every aspect. Apart from providing a background as well as practical steps for leadership and advocacy in mental health, it was an opportunity to network with people who are interested in mental health, drawn from other African countries. The training reminded me of the urgent need for advocacy and leadership in mental health; this was quite significant for me because as a physician, I tend to focus more on clinical aspects. As a result of the training, l made a personal commitment to do more in regards to advocacy work. Currently, I am working on collaborating with a local NGO to conduct advocacy programs for youths in Calabar.”

– Dr. Emmanuel Essien, Consultant Psychiatrist at Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Nigeria.

4. What do you envision for the future of mental health leadership?

Going off of feedback from the leadership training course and the increased number of individuals showing interest in and advocating for mental health, including seeking avenues for improving their knowledge and skills for mental health advocacy, there is strong reason to look forward to better equipped mental health leaders in the future.

5. Are you attending the IIMHL Leadership exchange conference in May? What do you hope to learn?

I will not be able to attend due to other commitments, but Dr. Oye Gureje, the founder of the Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Programme will be attending and co-facilitating a workshop at the Leadership Exchange.


The Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Programme (mhLAP) will be holding their 9th Annual Workshop during the 18-29th June 2018. For more details on how to register please view their forum post.

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