Global Mental Health Summit – London 2018

By Vanessa Pinfold

We were invited to the first Global mental health summit in London last week. We had been asked in the run-up to help nominate experts by experience to attend, alongside other organisations including the National Survivor User Network (NSUN), Time to Change and the Movement for Global Mental Health. It was a key feature of the event – speakers talking about their personal experience of trauma, depression, overcoming stereotypes, and peer support. We heard from a young woman about surviving genocide in Rwanda, Matt Haig reading extracts from his book ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’, and a young leader in India talking about overcoming stigma and her experiences of bipolar. The other significant aspect of the summit was the launch of the Lancet commission on Global Mental Health – and the commitment from the journal to continue focusing on global mental health.


The event was not without its critics. Particularly the idea the UK Government were ambassadors for mental health while residing over policies actively impacting on people’s mental health through austerity and welfare reforms. While the UK government are putting money into the Samaritans helpline to ensure it can remain free to access for 4 years and investing £30 million into a NIHR Global Health Research programme, it does not counter the fact that many people can’t access NHS mental health services and people are struggling with welfare benefit changes and assessments. The result is people ending up in hospital in crisis. The system is not joined up or well-funded.


Delegates from all over the world were in London to change all that. To ask health ministers to act on recommendations from six work streams at the Summit. We were invited to contribute to the research and innovation work stream, co-chaired by Dr Thomas Kabir, our Public Involvement in Research Manager. The task was to come up with recommendations for health ministers – in 90 minutes. This process was both interesting and challenging. A room full of 30 people from different countries including India, Nigeria, Sweden, South Africa, Belgium and UK, all pitching in suggestions where consensus was needed, quickly. And we got it. Just! I think we were all surprised by how that was achieved! Our efforts put forward the following.


Recommendation 1:  Research will lead to substantial improvements in prevention and treatment of mental health. Mental health research is crucial to all sectors of society, and research in excluded groups is essential.  Governments and their funding bodies must ensure input from multiple scientific disciplines and co-ordinated action across all public services.


Recommendation 2: To improve mental health it is essential to fully involve people with a diverse range of experience of mental health conditions in decisions on what is researched and throughout the design, conduct and implementation of research.


Recommendation 3: Using the best locally appropriate evidence, huge improvements in mental health can be made. The health, research, and wider community need to ensure improvements to this evidence base. Policy makers should implement what is evidence-based.

At breakfast on the second day of the summit these recommendations together with those from the other work streams were presented to health ministers around the world. Thomas Kabir said that “it was a very interesting experience. Some of the most thoughtful responses to the recommendations were from poorer countries”. The Norwegian Minister for Health Care Services, Bent Hoie, said that it was clear from all the recommendations that people with experience of mental health problems should always be at the centre; ‘nothing about us without us’. I thought that this was helpful”.


One speaker at the Summit asked us to ask more questions, as local communities are best placed to provide their own solutions. This was a key theme in the research discussion too – context is critical and we can’t expect to scale up work that looks promising in Camberwell and export it to Nigeria without adaptions.


We asked before Summit, and at the event for meaningful involvement of experts by experience. Leadership is part of that with all work streams co-lead by people with experience of mental health problems. Lots of ideas were shared. Let’s hope the minsters of health were listening.


The next global mental health summit will be hosted in the Netherlands. Let’s see what happens next.