COVID-19 and Graduate Students

By: Graduate students in clinical psychology, behavioral and public health-related programs

Graduate Student Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic 

          The COVID-19 pandemic has created new realities for the entire world. In an effort to support graduate students during this time, The Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice invited graduate students via email to participate in a global discussion group to understand how COVID-19 impacts them, their educations, and their communities. Eleven graduate students in total representing the USA, Canada, and Nepal responded to the invitation and participated in the global discussion group. The authors of this blog post represent a portion of the students who participated and moderated the discussion. While multiple concerns were raised throughout the discussion, several key themes emerged, which centered on:
(a) the impact of the pandemic on students’ mental health,
(b) biggest challenges and unanticipated consequences,
(c) considerations for additional and continued support.

The impact of the pandemic on students’ mental health

             Students unanimously felt that the pandemic is taking a toll on their mental health by increasing experiences of depression, stress, and anxiety. Most students also reported a lack of mental health support in their respective programs. Specifically, students expressed being underinsured or lacking insurance as major barriers to accessing mental health care. Some students noted that while their institution offers on-campus mental health services, they do not feel comfortable utilizing them because they serve as training sites for themselves, peers, and colleagues, which creates concerns regarding multiple roles/relationships, privacy, and confidentiality.

Challenges and unanticipated consequences

          Communication and expectations. Many students identified a disconnect between how their institution and program faculty responded to the pandemic. Inadequate and inconsistent responses from institutions and faculty members contributed to heightened feelings of distress, uncertainty about work expectations, and greater pressure to be productive among graduate students. For instance, many institutional initiatives prioritized undergraduate students leaving graduate students feeling overlooked and unsupported.
          Limited and inconsistent communication regarding academic expectations during the pandemic was also a concern and source of distress. Some advisors encourage graduate students to rest and understand the importance of doing so. However, when the behavior is not modeled by these advisors, other faculty members, and peers, students find it challenging and uncomfortable to take time away from their work responsibilities.

            Transitional challenges and financial burdens. Transitioning to virtual learning, teaching, and telehealth is an ongoing challenge for students in classes, clinical training, and conducting laboratory research. In addition to transitional challenges, students are experiencing increased financial burden related to loss of academic funding and familial and partner unemployment. These COVID-19-related stressors are further amplified by concurrent social and systemic health inequities and widespread civil unrest. In the face of these multifaceted challenges, students remain resilient by seeking peer and mentor support, engaging in hobbies, and practicing self-care.         

Going Forward…
          As we approach the new academic term, it’s important to recognize that this is a uniquely challenging time to be a graduate student. In addition to the regular demands of graduate training, we must take into account contextual factors that affect student success and mental health.

We recommend the following considerations for institutions and faculty/staff working with graduate students:

●      Consider how ableism and other intersecting oppressions (such as, but not limited to, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia) may emerge in communication with graduate students about work and course expectations. Graduate students come from a range of backgrounds and experiences, and they should not feel pressured to compromise or risk their health because they are worried about being negatively evaluated or missing opportunities.
●      Disseminate a concrete plan to dismantle racism within graduate programs, academic departments, and institutions as a whole and outline actionable steps that institutions and individuals can take to address racial inequities

●      Initiate and establish communication that is frequent, timely, and sincere from institutions and advisors to students to alleviate anxiety, stress, and uncertainty around coursework, research and other student responsibilities.
●      Protections for research and stipend funding for students and ensure that funding is maintained during the pandemic.
●      Elicit feedback from graduate students one-on-one and in an anonymous survey about their experiences, stressors, and needs during the pandemic.
●      Provide transparent and up-to-date resource databases for students, including but not limited to: short term jobs, grants, food security, mental health services, housing resources, open source software.
●      Provide resources regarding mental health services offered outside of the institution to accommodate graduate students who may have concerns related to multiple roles and relationships, confidentiality, and privacy.
●      Explicit recognition of the vital role graduate students play in the university and community, from teaching to providing community health services.
●      Be flexible and open with student expectations regarding face-to-face interactions (e.g., classes, practicum, office hours, etc.).
●      Update contracts and expectations for students engaging in clinical training that reflect COVID-19 challenges, such as ensuring that clinical training sites have resources and safety protections for trainees.

Student coauthors:

Mia Campbell, BSc., Spatial Epidemiology Intern - Columbia Mailman School of Public Health,  Fulbright Nehru Fellow
Cori Tergesen, MSc., M.A., Clinical and Community Psychology PhD - DePaul University
Kirby Magid, M.A., Health Psychology PhD - University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Nadha Hassen, MPH, PhD student - York University
Michelle Paluszek, B.A., Clinical Psychology M.A. - University of Regina
Alexis Mitchell, B.S., Clinical Health Psychology PhD - University of North Carolina at Charlotte

This blog is a snapshot of the experience of graduate students. We recognize there may be unique or additional challenges that are not considered in this blog. The recommendations are provided from the perspectives of eleven student representatives and their experiences at their institutions.

GA attends UN-HLPF SDGs Series 2020

By Gita Jaffe 

Starting the second week of July 2020, High-level Political Forum (HLPF) (the United Nations central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)) met virtually. The theme was Building back better after COVID-19 and acting where we will have the greatest impact on the SDGs. Focusing on  “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development” the HLPF did not adopt a Ministerial Declaration, however a summary from the president of ECOSOC to capture key messages of the discussions can be found here.

Representatives of the Global Alliance were present in a series of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) 2020 SDGs Learning, Training, and Practice workshops held over the HLPF.  Full details of all of the sessions can be found here. Blog posts regarding the sessions that representatives attended are below. 

GA at UN: Making a commitment to the SDGs

by Evelyn P. Tomaszewski

 Making the commitment to the SDGs:  Universities and Beyond. 

On July 9, 2020, The United Nations Institute for training and research (UNITAR) convened a panel entitled Teaching, Learning, and Integrating the SDGs at Universities and Beyond; using SDG 4 as the springboard for discussion.  As a social worker and educator, I was pleased to hear about both the efforts within the academy and the commitment to honoring and including live-long learning (LLL) in the conversation. 

Panelists provided a wide-range of ideas, possibilities and opportunities for educators to integrate SDGs in the classroom, research, community outreach, and engagement, as well as in the over-all campus operations.  For example, Chadrinka Bahadur –(SDG Academy)  asked us to think of: How do we help students to partner the reality of time and energy to delve into a particular subject of their course with the importance of their understanding the full breadth of the SDGs? Bahadur noted that while students are there to ‘master’ a particular topic or discipline, the success of the SDGs do not allow a ‘pick and choose’ approach.  While she noted an interdisciplinary approach is critical, it became clear from the panelist comments and participants chat that to truly achieve the SDGs, we as faculty, staff, and students must work to have universities commit to breaking through the silos that exist by the very nature of the structure (and funding sources) typical of) higher education.   

Joanna Newman, Secretary-General, Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) provided a clear example of Institutional commitment at the leadership level, by mapping the university efforts (e.g., identifying contributions, cross-disciplinary efforts) with the recognition that universities and colleges are often actual town or cities, and therefore have the civic responsibility to look at their own footprint.  She stressed the critical importance of inclusion of the arts and social sciences in this interdisciplinary work, including research.  A dynamic conversation was simultaneously happening in the chatroom, where I noted that “As an educator – approaching SDGs from a human rights lens – we must use the ‘classroom’ (of diverse ages and experiences and cultural context) as a way to bridge the students  own interests and research areas to the intersectionality of the SDGs - and that students are also stakeholders in the defining community-centered policy AND practice.”

In a brief presentation entitled “Integrating the SDGs at universities and beyond”,  Katarina Popovic, Secretary-General, ICAE, noted the current context of a global public health crisis finds systemic failures and challenges being faced by universities; and higher education must be open to explore and be critical of current models. She noted that now is the time to Think about and Rethink the SDGs.

I agree that now is the time for universities- whether as members of a community or large enough to be viewed as a stand-alone community – must commit to assessing and addressing the structural and systemic issues that have long been at the root of every inequity that hinders the achievements of the SDGs. This commitment will require working across disciplines and across continents. One example is the Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice Global Mental Health Task Force, comprised of a diverse group of disciplines, committed to building partnerships with practitioners in university settings across the globe, working to support “Making the SDGs a Reality”.

Evelyn P. Tomaszewski, MSW

Co-Chair, Global Mental Health Task Force, Global Alliance

GA at UN: Digital Skills for Development

by Gita Jaffe

During Accelerating action through digital technologies: Strengthening digital skills and capacities for human wellbeing, the discussion focused on the role of digital skills for development and the need to close the digital divide, particularly as the correlation between risks to COVID-19 intersecting with digital and social inequities were raised. The session highlighted examples from around the world with relation to access and barriers to reliable internet, in conjunction with the skills and platforms necessary to work remotely and attend virtual school. The central point was that digital skills (on desktops, laptops, and 

mobile devices) are required to accelerate the achievement of all SDGs. If used properly, such skills will be used as enablers, which means that without skills people will be left further behind. COVID-19 has brought to the surface the huge connectivity challenge, with over 90% of the world’s population living in an area that has service coverage, yet only 54% are using the internet, with less developed countries having significantly less usage (ITU, 2020)

Although there were very important information and recommendations to move forward with economic-focused well-being indicators (including case examples of implementing assessments and implementing recommendations in Ghana), no presenters included a holistic approach to ‘human well-being,’ a significant shortcoming when reimagining the digital divide and skill development.

GA at UN: Partnerships

by Gita Jaffe

Developing transformational partnerships to catalyze SDGs implementation panelists shared practical examples of how collaboration is necessary to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs, both between the SDGs and among stakeholders.  Recognizing that COVID-19 has highlighted the fundamental need to shift the way we live and work, examples focused on moving away from singular goals and towards engaging in transformational development.  As an example, the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform was shared. Utilizing a system thinking process to connect issues, this tool incorporates human intelligence and artificial intelligence in a revolutionary way mapping the connections within, among, and between key issues with relevant publications, videos, and data generated on every pathway in real time.

GA at UN: Food Systems

by Alexis Mitchell

During the Food Systems and Nutrition Patterns: Biodiversity, Resilience, and Food Security session, panelists shared strategies for improving how our global food systems operate. A central theme of this session included sustainable food production and distribution. That is, critically evaluating the methods for how food is grown, harvested, raised, fished, etc., and the effects these methods have on the environment.

Improvements being made in the realm of sustainable food systems and malnutrition were highlighted by panelist Dr. Howard Shapiro’s discussion on his project with The African Orphan Crop Consortium (AOCC) and The African Plant Breeding Academy in West Africa. These projects teach and utilize genetic sequencing technologies to advance the types of crops that are grown and harvested in Africa (i.e., more nutrient-dense crop seeds are prioritized and improved). The goal of this work is to increase the region’s degree of agrobiodiversity and establish a more resilient grow-harvest system.

Agrobiodiversity was a term that came up throughout all panelist discussions, which reflects that resilient and sustainable systems go hand in hand with diversifying, adapting, and improving current methods being used worldwide. For instance, the panelist Dr. Remans, a research scientist, highlighted that 75% of the global food supply comes from just 12 plants and 5 animal species. Currently, as a global community, our food systems are not diverse enough (i.e., focusing on crop yield versus crop sustainability and diversity is not viable), and this will result in less resilient and sustainable systems in the years to come. Without improving our food systems now, we risk increasing the risk for greater rates of malnutrition in years to come.

Global food insecurity and malnutrition are of grave concern to the Global Alliance. Increasing access to nutritious foods and encouraging cultural shifts about how food, climate change, and human well-being are interconnected are efforts that we are passionate about at the Alliance. We strongly affirm that all people should have access to the resources that make a healthy, fulfilling life possible, such as access to nutritious foods and quality healthcare. The issues highlighted in this session speak to the dire need for individuals worldwide to become more knowledgeable about food systems at a global, national, and local level to ensure our global food supply remains resilient in decades to come. World hunger has been on the rise since 2015. If we are no longer able to produce sustainable food options and connect people worldwide with nutritious foods, then how will we eradicate malnutrition and end hunger? Learn more about the United Nation's efforts to eradicate hunger and address food security issues. 

GA at UN: Energy and Participatory Science

by Alexis Mitchell

Session 6, Energy decarbonization and universal access: Participatory Science and Stakeholder Capacity Building in Sustainable Energy Development, was closely tied to SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy. Concepts relative to sustainability and energy decarbonization may not immediately come to mind when thinking of behavioral health or social justice, however, featured speakers passionately conveyed that having access to sustainable, clean energy sources is tied to health and wellness, as well as socioeconomic development. Two organizations were featured in this session.

First, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), spoke to their program in which they work in countries and regions around the world to improve access to sustainable energy sources and build decarbonized energy capacity (i.e., reducing sources of energy that come from burning fossil fuels). The second panelist spoke on behalf of the NGO Objectif Sciences International (OSI). OSI has been very active in providing opportunities all over the world for children, youth, and adults increasing knowledge about global scientific inquiries (e.g., climate change, endangered animal species, ocean conservation)– through camps, expeditions, and research projects. OSI centered their discussion on participatory science (also known as citizen science), which is the act of engaging citizens in scientific endeavors, like research. The panelist emphasized the role of participatory science in increasing individual autonomy, knowledge, and interest in global scientific issues. This in turn has positive implications for shifting cultural views about how everyday people can be agents of change towards global issues, such as climate change.

Access to participatory science opportunities remains an issue though. It is important that all individuals worldwide, especially youth, have equal access to be involved in science. Just as we see global disparities in education and health, it is important for OSI and IAEA to understand and address disparities that may crop up regarding access to clean energy and participatory science opportunities.

Canada Gairdner Global Health Symposium

by Gita Jaffe

CEThe 2019 Canada Gairdner Global Health Symposium was hosted by the Gairdner Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, SickKids Centre for Global Child Health and Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) on October 23, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. The symposium’s theme, Community-based Health Interventions: From Global to Local highlighted speakers from around the world including: Vikram Patel (2018 Global Alliance Presidential Award Winner); Vandana Gopikumar founder of the Banyan and the Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health; Vicky Stegiopoulos the Physician-in-Chief at CAMH who focusses on the development and evaluation of interventions to address the needs of people who are homeless (including mental health); Abhijit Nadkarni an addictions psychiatrist and global mental health researcher who focusses on developing and evaluating interventions for alcohol use disorders in low resource settings; Takeesha White, Founding Director of the Friendship Benches NYC, Renee Linklater the Director of Shkaabe Makwa, a program that supports First Nations, Inuit and Métis wellness at CAMH and Daisy Singla, one of the youngest winners of a study from the Patient Centred Outcome Research Institute (PCORI) focussing on scaling up evidence-based psychological treatments to enrich the lives of women and their families worldwide. The speakers identified personal pathways towards their current professional efforts.

The various research and programs discussed demonstrated approaches to tackling existing gaps in- and barriers to- behavioral health and wellbeing. Below are a few concepts that were discussed among the panelists:

  • The interface of professional identity with action (locally and abroad) and understanding the opportunity for synergies between action and academy. As barriers to success were discussed around the globe, the consistent understanding was that every country needs to address gaps in achieving wellbeing.
  • The shared goal among stakeholders interested in mental health (and arguably any issue) is critical to finding solutions and encouraging action. Despite differences in approach and opinion, the opportunity to collaborate on a shared vision (wellbeing) is central. 
  • In understanding that increasing access to behavioral health services globally must include non-specialist mental health care, emphasis on cultural context and cross-cultural relevance is required. The engagement of civil society is critical to progress. Finally, solutions are found where policy, culture, practice and academy intersect.

Get Youth and Families Involved

by Deborah Klein Walker

[Recently, Deborah Klein Walker, the Immediate Past President of the Global Alliance and a member of the Forum For Children’s Well-Being, participated in a workshop to discuss dissemination strategies for the newly released report, State of Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Health (MEB) of Children and Youth in the United States.]

In the last ten year, the evidence-base about the influences of mental, emotional and behavioral (MEB) development has expanded greatly (see report Fostering Healthy Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Development in Children and Youth: A National Agenda). Despite this, the United States has not fully acted on the information, which has resulted in an increasing number of children and youth with MEB challenges. Currently, 31.9% of children and youth have anxiety; 19.1% have behavioral disorders; 14.3% have depression and 11.4% have substance disorders. Suicide is the second most common cause of death for youth, ages 15 to 24 years, and the third most common for youth, ages 10-14 years.

MEBFamilies and youth must be involved in designing the dissemination strategies for their communities and states to educate the public about MEB development and the major investments needed for MEB promotion, prevention, treatment and maintenance. The leadership of organizations such as the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health and Family Voices must be engaged continuously to work with families and youth in designing effective strategies. Similarly, Youth MOVE National, an independent organization of youth leaders across the country, should be engaged in developing programs and policies that affect them. All of these organizations have “chapters” in most of the states that foster family and youth engagement at the local and state levels. Working together, we can create the political will and design social strategies for an agenda to improve MEB health. Unless families and youth are engaged in the process, these efforts will not be effective.

What is Needed to Promote MEB Health of Children and Youth?

by Deborah Klein Walker

 [Recently, Deborah Klein Walker, the Immediate Past President of the Global Alliance and a member of the Forum For Children’s Well-Being, participated in a workshop to discuss dissemination strategies for the newly released report, State of Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Health (MEB) of Children and Youth in the United States.]

The promotion of mental, emotional and behavioral (MEB) health for children and youth requires action on multiple fronts in multiple sectors (e.g., education, healthcare, childcare, etc.).  No “one single bullet” will work.   Rather, it will take a sustained effort of program and policy interventions combined with public education to achieve the goals and vision laid out in the new consensus study report, entitled Fostering Healthy Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Development in Children and Youth: A National Agenda.   According to the report, a coordinated effort will require (1) active engagement of all stakeholders, (2) a well-trained workforce, (3) engaged leadership in organizations delivering the interventions, (4) strong community coalitions and (5) a data monitoring system.   The monitoring system to track the quality and outcomes of implementation efforts, as well as barriers and facilitators to successful implementation, will be the most challenging since there currently is no MEB system that provides data at the local, state and national levels.

MEBMoreover, the recommendation to implement a public education campaign to combat stigma and promote MEB health in children and youth will require large investments of public and private dollars to develop and maintain.   As we learned in the tobacco control and prevention work in the 1990s and beyond, media campaigns are instrumental to changing attitudes and behavior, but extremely expensive to implement at the level needed to “move the needle” on public opinion.  Let’s hope we can generate the resources for a major public campaign that will create the political will to invest in promotion of MEB health for children and youth.

New NASEM Report Presents Opportunity to Improve MEB in Children and Youth

by Deborah Klein Walker

[Recently, Deborah Klein Walker, the Immediate Past President of the Global Alliance and a member of the Forum For Children’s Well-Being, participated in a workshop to discuss dissemination strategies for the newly released report, State of Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Health (MEB) of Children and Youth in the United States.]

The Global Alliance is a sponsor of the Forum for Children’s Well-being, an activity of the Board on Children, Youth and Families of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.  Last week, the Forum met to discuss dissemination strategies for the new consensus study report -- Fostering Healthy Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Development in Children and Youth: A National Agenda. This report, which follows the 2009 consensus study (Preventing Mental, Emotional and Behavioral Disorders Among Young People) presents more evidence for programs and policies that promote mental, emotional and behavioral (MEB) development and prevent MEB disorders. It is important to note that the first consensus report (Reducing Risks of Mental Disorder) published 25 years ago in 1994 did not discuss promotion of MEB health and had very little discussion of prevention of MEB disorders. Although much still needs to be done to assure full implementation of treatment and maintenance of MEB disorders, the emerging evidence for promotion and prevention interventions is especially encouraging.

MEBThe report “urges the creation of a broad-based effort to improve MEB health for children and youth, organized under the rubric Decade of Children and Youth, led by the Department of Health and Human Services. The initiative would build awareness of the social and economic gains associated with healthy child development and engage multiple sectors of society in working toward the goal.” How can this effort be supported by individuals, families, communities, states, faith-based organizations, private businesses, and others to assure that it is successful? The time has come to invest in evidence-based solutions to improve MEB health for children and youth.

GA at the UN: Wrap-Up

by Gita Jaffe

WUAs I reflect on the process leading up to, and experience at the UN HLM and UNGA side events I feel hopeful that the progress made in NYC this past week is significant. It provides the necessary framework to act and amplify our voice. The meetings and events highlighted successes to date and presented glaring gaps that need to be addressed in order to achieve the SDGs and UHC in the years to come. The commitment is a long process, for each community and country. To be accountable the global community must move forward with tangible targets. For the Global Alliance our next steps include:

  • continuing to advocate and inform policy and research on pertinent issues UN
    surrounding the inclusion of mental health and behavioral health services as part of UHC, through channels such as written statements, policy resolutions and multi-stakeholder meetings;
  • develop and share good information about the intersection of behavioral health and social justice issues; and
  • complete an environmental scan to identify gaps in policy and research as well as potential partners engaged in global mental health advocacy and education.

This week, people from around the world shared common goals on this important stage. It was a great privilege to represent the Global Alliance in advocating for our shared values. #GA4UHC #SDGs #globalgoals

GA at the UN: A Decade of Action

by Gita Jaffe
UNPathfinders hosted the evening A Decade of Action: Accelerating Action to build Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies which are Free from Fear and Violence, based on SDG16+ which includes SDG 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and 24 targets from seven other goals that directly measure an aspect of peace, justice, and inclusion. The evening had three themes of discussion.  The first set of presenters were distinguished political guests sharing tangible examples of actions taken in their countries since the launch of SDGs and practical next steps.  Sierra Leone’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice Priscilla Schwartz shared a significant number of accountable actions they have already taken in areas such as civil registration (identity), technology and corruption.  The second set of presenters represented examples from civil society including Ms. Jhody Polk, Founder of the Legal Empowerment and Advocacy Hub, who emphasized that access to justice is a human right, and we must ensure access for all, including to incarcerated populations.  The final theme of the evening sharedUN examples of collaboration to accelerate action on SDG16+ from private and public stakeholders. The conclusion and common understanding throughout the evening was that without peace, justice and strong institutions no SDGs can be achieved. Investment in SDG16+ must be made by all, and collectively we must accelerate data-driven innovations and people-centred approaches.

GA at the UN: Turning the Tables

by Gita Jaffe
UNTurning the Tables: Patient Perspectives on Universal Health Coverage focussed on the importance of meaningfully engaging in patient-centred care.  It was acknowledged that there is a chasm between the political declaration and what occurs in communities. The speakers each shared their personal and professional lived experience to encourage patient knowledge in developing strategies that include collecting evidence to support efforts in moving forward in programming and policy.

GA at the UN: Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Wellbeing

by Gita Jaffe

The Launch of the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Wellbeing was introduced by the three initial champions of the strategy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and the President of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo. Stronger Collaboration, Better Health: Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being for All brings together 12 multilateral health, development and humanitarian agencies to better support countries to UNaccelerate progress towards the health-related SDGs. Angela Nguku, Executive Director for the White Ribbon Alliance in Kenya, spoke for Civil Society and argued that a13th partner should be recognized as the voice of all people. This meeting was strongly based on the premise that SDG 3, to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, is the docking station for the SDGs. Therefore, engaging countries and communities to identify their priorities, accelerating progress, aligning support of countries and reviewing and sharing lessons to ensure accountability were the highlighted steps of action. As selected individuals shared their commitments to collaboration, the Colombian and Ugandan representatives both raised the critically importantUN issue of migrants and refugees and their health as a human right. 

GA at the UN: Children & Youth

by Gita Jaffe

The meeting, From 2011 to 2019: Global NCD Progress for Children and Youth focussed on (1) sharing global programs for NCDs (2) developing new opportunities at the global level particularly in the context of UHC and (3) to inspire young people to speak out and in support UNof NCDs. In order to 'walk the talk' they had 2 youth moderators Dr. Marie Hauerslev and Dr. George Msengi. In discussing the largest changes the NCDs community has observed, Sir George Alleyne explained (1) the shift to fundamentally listening to youth as opposed to the tokenism of inclusion previously and (2) the flow of information. Dr. Stefan Peterson, the Associate Director of the Program Division and Chief of Health for Unicef, discussed some of the current frustrations for adolescents and NCDs in the context of UHC including that collectively the community is still at the advocacy stage, partially due to the lack of mobilized resources. However, it is encouraging that Unicef has moved towards programming and have developed new guidelines on community-based mental health and psychosocial support. Her Royal Highness Princess Dina Mired focused on a transformative (and progressive) systems approach to achieve UHC, by finding efficiencies, communicating messages clearly and ensuring that 'nothing for us without us'. These concepts were supported by the panel and emphasized with action steps forward to (1) learn from shared experience, particularly through political entrepreneurs and champions and (2) link NCDs and UHC with human capital in messaging. #youthNCDs #youth4health #SDG3


GA at the UN: The Overall Experience

by Gita Jaffe

I have been asked, what is it like at the meetings? My initial response is that it is a unique experience that I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to attend. Having been engaged in national and regional UN meetings in sub-Saharan Africa some time ago, I can say that the environment and energy is different here.

UNThe process has been intensive with a pre-registration and selection process for each event, multi-step ticketing pick up while in New York and security check points for any event within UNHQ. The streets are often blocked off for security, while motorcades for heads of state and other officials travel to the meetings. Among the champions of mental health the urgency is clear, there is no chance to achieve the SDG without its inclusion. Inside, and particularly at smaller-scale meetings, high level officials UNembrace speaking to champions of UHC. Together we hope to overcome the general lack of focus on behavioural health in order to influence and strengthen the inclusion of mental health and behavioural health services in UHC. #GA4UHC 

GA at the UN: Mental Health for All

by Gita Jaffe

Mental Health for All: An Evening for Action brought together leaders, distinguished guests, champions of mental health and advocates with lived experience from around the world.    James Chau, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for SDG and Health, introduced the evening acknowledging the historic event from today, as the UN welcomed the ‘most comprehensive agreement ever on global health’. Messages were consistent from speakers that included UNGA President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, Queen Mathilde of Belgium (a trained psychologist and UNSDG advocate) and WHO Director General Dr. Tedros, that mental health is the least talked about issue, yet presents some of the largest barriers to achieving the SDG, and that the time to invest must be now.  However, it was in a passionate speech by Amina J. Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary General of the UN, that clearly articulated one of the greatest challenges to achieving UHC, that even on this platform of the UNHLM, ‘not up to 5 ministers put mental health in their speech’.  Despite this sobering statement, the launch of Speak Your Mind a new global civil society campaign, organized by United for Global Mental Health was supported with hope and excitement, as they call on everyone to take 40 seconds to raise your voice with an aim of catalyzing action. #40seconds #speakyourmind

mh4 mh4
Amina Mohammed Jazz Thornton from Voices
of Hope (New Zealand) and
Victor Hugo  (Nigeria)
organizations  leading the
Speak your Mind Teams
and campaigns

GA at the UN:UHC

by Evelyn Tomaszewski

 The Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice applauds Secretary Azar (U.S. Health and Human Services) for recognizing – during a presentation at today’s UN High Level Meeting on Universal Health Care - that access to primary care is critical (part of universal health care), and that primary care must be integrated into and with behavioral health services, including the use of community health workers.     As stressed in the Global Alliance’s statement submitted during the UN HLM – UHC Interactive Hearing, the integrative and accessible programs and services must include resources for trained, supported (including supervision) and resourced behavioral health providers in the overall planning for human resources for health.  To read the Global Alliance letter to UN member states, click here.

GA at the UN: Day 1

by Gita Jaffe

In preparation for the United Nations High Level Meeting on Universal Health Care (UN HLM-UHC), I had the UNopportunity to attend a side-event on behalf of the Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice: "A World at Risk: Accelerating Global Preparedness for Health Emergencies”.  The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (which is co-convened by the WHO and the World Bank Group) released a ‘how to’ guide with clearly described recommendations of actions that leaders ought to take in order to better prepare the world for health emergencies, as serious gaps persist. The report can be downloaded here. The panelists all agreed that in regard to disaster preparedness, ‘no one is safe, until everyone is safe’, comprehensive community involvement is necessary (particularly for building trust) and that preparedness cannot be siloed, particularly in regard to UNUHC and the SDGs.  Ms. Kitty van der Heijden, the Vice Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, Netherlands stressed the importance of including mental health and psychosocial support within health emergencies and mentioned an upcoming conference the International Conference on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Crisis Situations in October.