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WHO mhGAP Forum held on WMH Day

Men in a conference room
Delegates at the third mhGAP forum, held in Switzerland in October 2011

On 10th October 2011 - World Mental Health Day - the third mhGAP Forum was held at WHO Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. A wide variety of organisations working in mental health discussed progress and challenges in the fight to reduce the gap between needs and services in the field of mental health.

What is mhGAP?

Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) is the WHO’s flagship programme aiming to reduce the huge gap that exists between needs and services in the field of mental health.

This is being done by helping governments to reform their mental health services, including through decentralisation of services and integration of mental health into Primary Health Care. The mhGAP programme provides the practical materials and guidance to help implementers to do this.

Progress in mhGAP implementation

At this third mhGAP Forum in Geneva, progress in mhGAP implementation in countries was presented, including in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Jordan and Panama (priority countries for mhGAP implementation) as well as Brazil, Uganda and India.

This was an opportunity to hear about how far things have progressed in the last few years in a variety of country contexts, and share possible solutions to some of the challenges that implementers have met. A wide variety of organisations working in mental health were there, and able to share the ways that they have been engaging with communities to see how the mhGAP Guidelines can be useful.

A real life story

The highlight of the meeting was an opportunity to hear from the former Prime Minister of Norway, Mr Kjell Magne Bondevik, who told his story of having experienced a severe episode of depression while in office.

He took the decision to openly announce his diagnosis, and took a month off from work while he recovered from his sickness. It was a powerful story, and illustrated well his points about the importance of mental illness being brought out of the shadows and being a subject that can be discussed as a way to reduce stigma.

He also emphasised that he returned to work after he received treatment and recovered. He was lucky to be able to do this, because many people with psychosocial disabilities are routinely assumed not to be able to work.

He strongly argued that this was a damaging attitude, both for people trying to recover themselves, and society in general.  He felt that he in fact became a better leader because of having gone through the experience of having an episode of depression.

It was great to hear a practical example of the principle of ‘nothing about us without us’, and to see what a powerful impact the voice of people with first-hand experience can have. 

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Powerful impact

Dr Julian Eaton


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