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From “Mind Our Rights, Now!” to the next Ministerial Mental Health Summit: Recommendations for World Leaders

By Victor Ugo, MBBS, MSc

October 2021 put a spotlight on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) as the Ministerial Mental Health Summit “Mind Our Rights, Now!” hosted by France took place on 5-6th October in Paris. To reflect on the outcomes of the Summit and sustain the momentum on MHPSS, our MHPSS and Youth Engagement Advisor Victor Ugo shares his recommendations for the way forward.

 

As the Italian government will be hosting the next Ministerial Mental Health Summit in 2022, we thought to highlight some of the takeaways from the past summit with an expectation that these are reflected in the next one.

Since the maiden edition of the Ministerial Mental Health Summit in London in 2018, we have seen governments and policy makers continue to make commitments with little or no action taken. The French summit was the third edition of the Ministerial Mental Health Summit and like the summits before it, presented a platform for lots of conversations but little to no commitment to action,  therefore, giving us an opportunity to stop and ask ourselves – what exactly is the purpose of these summits – especially if, instead of tangible progress, we are seeing governments and global leaders cut down on available funding for mental health, for example the UK government’s massive cut in FCDO international development funding, an action which is in direct opposition to promoting global mental health. If we are to go with what we have seen since the start of these summits, there is a need to develop a framework for tracking and holding decision makers accountable to their commitments to ensure that we go from aspiration to action.

On youth engagement and representation at the summit, there is a need to engage young people – who make up a large percentage of the mental health burden – in these summits, and not just by creating a session for youth mental health or having them as speakers in a couple of workshops but involving them in the planning of the summit as well as integrating their participation across its entirety. Especially making space for young people with lived experience of mental health problems as well as those from regions that are usually neglected in the planning of these summits; regions where English or the preferred language of the summit organizers are not their preferred spoken language. The evidence on young people’s experiences of mental health problems is clear, but so also is the value in meaningfully engaging them as experts in their own rights, in such conversations. It would be an amazing but necessary and useful effort if there is a youth advisory committee for the next summit, a pre-summit for youth to capture their input and an integration of their reflections and recommendations in the main plenary. ‘Consulting’ youth after recommendations have been drafted and the summit planning is done, is tokenistic and ‘box-ticking’ and does not represent meaningful and ethical youth engagement, at least, the way that it needs to be done and that is respectful of their expertise, lived and otherwise. Like Margianta Surahman said in his keynote speech at the workshop on children and adolescents “… Engaging young people is more than asking us to speak at an address”.

In conclusion, one way we describe MHPSS at the Collaborative is inspired by Martin Luther King – the “beloved community” – in this case the beloved community that nurtures, protects and ensures children and young people have critical skills in social and emotional learning, mental health literacy and can exercise their rights in enabling and loving environments. This is unachievable without clear commitments by those with the power, but also without the meaningful engagement of persons with lived experience, young and old. It has been a great experience engaging at the summit this year, but it is an experience that we will reflect on for our ongoing work as well as take clear steps to move this conversation forward, especially championing our own recommendations above.

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