Day 3 - It's health, not mental health

Melissa Speed, Central Queensland University

The third day of the 72nd World Health Assembly started off as busy as ever! Greta, Wills and Billi were off to a breakfast side-event on Ebola, Pandemics and Biological Weapons at the Intercontinental, Geneva. Meanwhile, James and Ali headed to the Palais des Nations, with James meeting with a few experts in the field of child and adolescent obesity. My schedule for the day was focused on my passion area: mental health. While there were only two official events scheduled for the week that were focusing on this issue, I was extremely excited as a result of the anticipation.

This first event ‘Harnessing Global Momentum in Mental Health’ was coordinated by the World Economic Forum. This event booked out so quickly that I was placed on the waiting list, but luck was on my side, as there was a spare seat available when I went along anyway in the morning. Score!

The event was themed around positive mental health within the workforce, destigmatising mental health, and some of the innovative technology that is being implemented in this space. The panel was filled with knowledgeable and passionate people, which made it the most engaging side-event I had been to so far. It was great to see the event filled with high-level attendees who were all so passionate about mental health, which highlighted for me the importance of this issue and the need for more urgent coverage globally.

One of the highlights was the moderator, Poppy Jaman - CEO and founding member of Mental Health First Aid England, who is heavily involved in the Mental Health Alliance UK. She touched on ‘This is Me’, a business-led campaign aimed at supporting organisations and employees to talk about mental health. As one in six employees suffer from mental illness in workplaces, it helps to bridge the gap and encourage workers to share and unite about their experiences. Poppy’s comment, that one in one people have mental health and that mental health needs to have a positive association as it is about health, was an enlightening way to consider this issue. She talked about the need to address stigma by transferring the focus on mental health in healthcare to everyday life and the workforce, as we normalise discussions on mental health.

I was also privileged to learn about some very new technology, which has become the first FDA approved digital medicine. Panellist Bill Carson talked briefly about Abilify MyCite: a pill with an inbuilt sensor that digitally tracks a patient’s ingested medication. It works by sending data from the swallowed pill to a wearable patch. This patch will then transmit information to a mobile app or a web-based browser that the patient’s caregiver or doctor can access. It has been approved for schizophrenia, acute treatment of mania, mixed episodes that are associated with bipolar I disorder, and as an add-on treatment for depression. I loved hearing about this new and innovative technology! Especially as this would be perfect for those in rural and remote areas with less access to ongoing medical treatment and services.

Overall the panel was amazing, with some very inspiring speakers. My key takeaways were the importance of considering the mental health of all people, and of engaging both the public and private sectors to invest in mental health for a more productive and healthy society.

Next up, was the WHO technical briefing ‘Mental Health – time to scale up’. The event was packed, prompting Billi, James and myself to arrive half an hour early to ensure we had a seat. The panel included Her Majesty Queen of Belgians, and as a result, security around the event was insane. This briefing provided nations with the platform to share their success stories, which was very encouraging. However, the biggest downfall identified consistently by speakers was the lack of funding for mental health globally.

Even though Australia is so privileged, and has a mental health and suicide prevention plan, we can do better. The is a need to shift our priorities to recognise that suicide is a silent killer, the second highest course of death globally in young people, and an enormous problem still in Australia, particularly in rural and remote communities. There is a need for action in innovation, development of community services and the pressing need for better funding. Every country should be rethinking their health funding with most countries only allocating 1-2% of their health budget to mental health, not enough given the seriousness of the issue. We need to work together in Australia, and globally, to break the silence around mental health and suicide!