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Key Highlights from United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and High Level Week: September 2023, New York

November 1, 2023

As the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) 78 and coinciding events in New York have concluded, I have spent some time reflecting on the key moments.   By way of background, I was accredited to represent the Global Alliance based on the programming I have led over the past year with our organization.  The process of accreditation, in order to represent civil society, requires several steps including applications with evidence of international and national advocacy.  

Since its inception, the Global Alliance has applied principles of human rights and social justice to advocate for policies and environments that foster positive mental health and well-being.  In 2023, our commitment to international advocacy has focused on universal health coverage (UHC) that is accessible for all, implemented equitably and recognizes mental health is fundamental to the human right to health. We have also concentrated efforts on the need to include mental health in pandemic prevention, preparedness and response (PPPR). 

Four years ago, I participated in UNGA 74 in a similar capacity.  At that time, the first HLM on UHC was held and it included the signing of the first Political Declaration of the same topic. This was a major advancement for the achievement of SDG 3 Health and Well-being, as it required a commitment from Member States.  From that time until present day, the Global Alliance continues to be committed to advocating for the inclusion of mental health across the continuum (including promotion and prevention).

Check out my posts from UNGA78 for a more detailed description of specific events and meetings.

Key Highlights From NY, September 2023

  • During the HLM on UHC, the recognition of the importance of mental health and a broader understanding of well-being on the global stage had increased slightly, since four years ago.  Yet, it is still significantly underrepresented as a key priority for member states and other stakeholders.
  • The recommitment by Member States to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a primary framework to act and measure progress toward common ambitions.
  • Recognition of climate change and the intersecting impact on health and well-being.

What was missing from UNGA 78 and High Level Week?

  • As an interdisciplinary organization committed to human rights, the notable exclusion of meaningful participation by people with lived experience and expertise at key meetings and negotiations was disappointing.  In order to truly have progress, critical moments require lived expertise in the negotiating process. Notably youth and young people ought to be ‘at the table’.
  • In part, because of the number of upcoming key moments (such as the COP 28 and the Summit of the Future), many commitments by Member States were put off for discussion at future events. While the intensity of UNGA 78 was clear, the requirement to move to action now and respond to the urgency in order to achieve the SDGs is needed.
  • Mental health and well-being as a human right must be included within and across all of the discussions and indicators.  It is the connecting force to achieving the SDGs and the urgency to invest in mental health and well-being along the continuum must be a priority.

Call to action: What is next for the Global Alliance?

  • Advocate for mental health and well-being as a human right.  Ensure efforts are aligned with key moments and opportunities to share organizational publications and programming.
  • Strengthen the movement focused on mental health and well-being by continuing to leverage our efforts with like minded organizations (LMOs) and networks such as United for Global Mental Health, UHC2030, and the Civil Society Engagement Mechanism (CSEM).
  • Prioritize our efforts to raise awareness about the importance of understanding the continuum of mental health with emphasis on the inclusion of promotion and prevention within policy, programming and research.
  • Embed mental health within and across all systems through recommendations in policy, practice and research.
  • Ensure person-centered and community-driven strategies that fundamentally include lived experience and meaningful engagement opportunities for all.
  • Strengthen the movement and support for a re-envisioned mental health workforce across sectors. (See, Reconceptualizing the Mental Health Workforce: A Principle-based White Paper with Strategies for Operationalization (
  • Bring people together for action in September 2024 (Coming Together For Action- details will be released soon)

The opportunity to represent the Global Alliance during UNGA 78, the UN High Level meetings, the SDG Action Summit, and various side events has been an honour and privilege.  At times, the energy this year was particularly sombre given the fact that at the midway point of the SDG pledges, only 15% are currently on track to succeed, while 48% are moderately or severely off track and 37% are stuck or declining.  Yet, the recommitment to the SDGs as a pathway is both important and encouraging.  If there is one key point to take away, it is that the efforts of organizations, such as the Global Alliance are pivotal in achieving the SDGs.  Our call to action is clear, to achieve mental health and well-being for all we must continue our efforts together.

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