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Above (left): Seventy attendees crowded into the room to hear presentations. Above (center): Drs. Rachel Ravich and David Livert listen as Dr. Toni Antonucci presents. Above (right): SPSSI UN/NGO Committee Interns Sherry Cheng, Michelle Herrera, Lindsay Blevins, and Gina Roussos provided critical support for the event. 

Click here to view the event flyer. 

About the Event

On February 2, 2017, SPSSI and the Psychology Coalition of NGOs Accredited at the United Nations (UN) sponsored an event entitled “Promoting Equal Access to Mental Health Resources for All Ages.” The event was timed to coincide with the meeting of the 55th UN Commission for Social Development. The panel included presentations by Mr. Werner Obermeyer (Deputy Executive Director, World Health Organization Office at the UN), Dr. Stefan Peterson (Associate Director and Chief, Health Section, UN Children’s Fund), and two psychologists: Dr. Toni Antonucci (SPSSI UN/NGO Committee member; Professor of Psychology, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan; Russell Sage Foundation Fellow) and Dr. Lena Verdeli (Associate Professor and Director of Global Mental Health, Teachers College, Columbia University). SPSSI UN/NGO Committee Chair Dr. Rachel Ravich (also program chair of the Psychology Coalition of NGOs Accredited at the UN) moderated the program.

In their presentations, panelists focused on two vulnerable populations: children and older adults in the context of developing integrative health care systems and in emergency settings. As the world is facing a growing refugee and migrant crisis due to conflicts and natural disasters, the panel discussed mental health and psychosocial support during emergencies, and explored ways that psychologists can contribute in providing comprehensive and responsive care both for the young and old in community-based settings. In view of the urgent action needed to address the challenges of an increasingly ageing population, panelists also identified risk factors and, based on available research, proposed recommendations for research and policy.

During lunch after the event, SPSSI UN/NGO Committee members toasted and thanked committee member Dr. Yvonne Rafferty, who is leaving the committee after twelve years of service.

Why is this Issue Important?

The Sustainable Development Framework 2015-2030 recognized mental health as a UN priority, an integral part of health, and a core component of poverty eradication efforts.

Mental health is vital for the well-being of individuals of all ages and their communities. However, not all populations have equal access to informed mental health care. Poverty, stigma, and lack of knowledge regarding mental health prevent many from receiving the care they need. Disparities in the availability of resources vary based on factors such as race and ethnicity, gender, disability, age, and socioeconomic and migration status. For too many, access to quality services remains out of reach.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 1% of the global health work force works in mental health and 45% of the world’s population live in a country with less than one psychiatrist for 100,000 people (WHO, 2015). Mental health care issues are neglected, despite their major contribution to the global burden of disease. In April of 2016, the WHO and World Bank called for “a collaborative response to tackle mental health as a development challenge by pursuing multidisciplinary approaches that encompass integrated health services at the community level” as well as “initiatives to address the mental health and psychosocial needs of displaced populations” (Out of the Shadows: Making Mental Health a Global Priority, 2016). In May of 2016, the World Health Assembly declared that Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is “the best chance of meeting people’s expectations for comprehensive care that does not drive them below the poverty line” (World Health Assembly 2016). In its Global Strategy and Action Plan on Aging 2016-2020, the WHO indicated that by 2015, 1 in 5 people will be 60 years old or older; by 2050, the number of people 60 and older will double. It urged action toward the development of age-friendly environments, the alignment of health systems to the needs of older populations, the development of long-term care systems that are equitable and sustainable, and research on healthy ageing.

To learn more about the SPSSI UN/NGO Committee, click here.