WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health

WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health

The goal of the WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health is to ensure universal health coverage involving access to quality and affordable care for mental health, neurological, and substance use conditions for 100 million more people.

Mission statement

Mental health conditions contribute to poor health outcomes, premature death, human rights violations, and global and national economic loss. The WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has identified mental health for accelerated implementation of the 13th General Programme of Work (GPW13), covering 2019-2025[1]. Mental health is high on the global health agenda following COVID-19, increased conflicts and climate emergencies, and growing economic uncertainties.  The time to act is now. 

The vision of the WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health is that all people achieve the highest standard of mental health and well-being.  It was launched in 2019 for implementation over 5-years, in 12 countries at a cost of US$ 60 million. 

The goal of the WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health is to ensure universal health coverage involving access to quality and affordable care for mental health, neurological and substance use conditions for 100 million more people.  The Special Initiative for Mental Health focuses on two strategic actions:

  1. advancing mental health policies, advocacy and human rights, and
  2. scaling up quality interventions and services for individuals with mental health, substance use and neurological conditions.

The foundation of the Special Initiative for Mental Health is to work in partnership with Member States, local, and international partners, as well as organisations of people with lived experience.  It aligns fully with global mental health mandates[2] and recommendations[3], contributes to WHOs GPW13[4] triple billion targets and universal health coverage agenda, including to leave no one behind.  In doing so, WHOs Special Initiative for Mental Health contributes, directly and indirectly, to multiple Sustainable Development Goals[5]

WHOs Special Initiative for Mental Health is underway in nine countries: Argentina, Bangladesh, Ghana, Jordan, Nepal, Paraguay, the Philippines, Ukraine and Zimbabwe.  It has contributed to nearly 6 million more girls, boys, women and men having mental health and psychosocial support services available in their communities; trained more than 5,500 individuals; and is collaborating with over 450 partner organisations.

1.              In resolution EB150.R4, WHO’s Executive Board recommended that the Seventy-fifth World Health Assembly in May 2022 extend the endpoint of the Thirteenth General Programme of Work by two years from 2023 to 2025.

[2] E.g., the updated Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2030

[3] E.g., the World mental health report: Transforming mental health for all

[4] WHO’s GPW13 targets 1, 4, 5, 6, 10, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 23, 35, 36, 39, and 41, covering a wide range of health priorities

[5] Directly, SDG 3: Good health and well-being, and indirectly, SDGs 1 (No poverty), 4 (Quality education), 5 (Gender equity), 8 (Decent work and economic growth), 10 (Reduced inequalities), 13 (Climate action), 16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions), and 17 (Partnerships for the goals).

Summary of relevant work

Annual updates about country specific achievements are posted to the WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health webpage[1].  However, since inception, only two of many highlights from each implementing country is provided in the table. 



•       Developed Special Initiative for Mental Health 5-year plan

•       Launched a national mhGAP[2] Training of Trainers programme


•       Approved a National Mental Health Strategic Plan (2020-2030)

•       Trained 45 trainers, plus 61 health workers and 3 field coordinators trained in readiness for mhGAP integration to primary health care


•       Created a Mental Health Board for national-level strategic guidance for mental health services

•       Trained health workers to screen for mental health conditions for people and their caregivers living with TB


•       Developed a National Mental Health and Substance Use Action Plan (2022-2026)

•       Doubled the percentage of primary health centers providing mhGAP services (to 31% since the start of the Special Initiative for Mental Health)


•       National and district-level mental health care programmes adopted

•       Trained 1,200 primary health care workers and 215 service managers to identify and refer people with mental health conditions


•       Passed the National Mental Health Law and created a National Mental Health Directorate in the Ministry of Health

•       Used virtual mental health services (sustained since COVID-19), increasing coverage in one region to500%

The Philippines

•       Boosted Government of the Philippines investment of US$ 10.4 million to increase free access to mental health medication in 2022, supporting more than 140,000 more people with mental, neurological and substance use conditions now receiving care from mhGAP trained service providers in primary health care facilities

•       Released an eLearning course on mental health advocacy and leadership for persons with lived experience


•       Launched the “Ukrainian Prioritized Multisectoral Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Actions During and After the War: Operational Roadmap” as part of Ukraine’s First Lady Initiative

•       Continued support for Community Mental Health Teams who have supported 1,400 individuals living with severe mental disorders with more than 23,000 consultations since February-2022


•       Included mental health conditions in Zimbabwe’s Essential Health Care Package

•       Screened 16,000 health care workers for depression and anxiety (as part of the COVID-19 response) and provided support where indicated


[1] https://www.who.int/initiatives/who-special-initiative-for-mental-health

[2] The WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) aims to scale up services for selected mental, neurological and substance use disorders via integration of mental health care in primary health care services.  https://www.who.int/teams/mental-health-and-substance-use/treatment-car…

Key partners

Number of local organizations engaged to improve mental health capacity currently accounts for 582


Seeking collaboration with

Experts by experience/service users
Other organizations
Policy makers


Empowerment and service user involvement
Policy and legislation
Prevention and promotion
Task sharing
Training, education and capacity building
Treatment, care and rehabilitation
All mental health conditions
Middle East
South America
Children and adolescents
Communicable diseases (e.g. HIV/AIDS, TB)
Families and carers
Humanitarian and conflict health
Maternal and neonatal health
Minority populations
Non-communicable diseases (e.g. cancer, diabetes, stroke)
Older adults
Primary care
Specialist care