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Protecting your mental health is always paramount, and in this particular time of crisis, that has become even more apparent. Today marks the second last day of Mental Health Awareness Week, a time of further recognition for the importance of mental wellbeing. To mark the week, we asked Elisha London, the founder of United for Global Mental Health, to share her wealth of knowledge with us on the subject. Read on for her personal mental health journey, her thoughts on COVID-19’s impact and her advice for taking care of yourself through difficult times.

On launching United for Global Mental Health

United for Global Mental Health was launched to build the first ever united global effort to catalyse greater action on global mental health. We want to see a world where everyone, everywhere, has someone to turn to in support of their mental health. What inspired us to launch this is a journey I never thought I’d go on. In 2013, following a trauma, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and chronic depression. Luckily for me I could afford the treatment I needed and with the right support, I recovered. In 2016, I was appointed Campaign Director for Heads Together, a mental health campaign spearheaded by Their Royal Highnesses, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. I started to realise the need for much greater action globally and worked to bring together campaigners, strategic partners, funders and mental health experts from around the world to create United for Global Mental Health. We launched at the UN General Assembly in 2018, and have been growing to meet the growing global demand ever since.

We aim to make change in four different areas:
Firstly, greater action by global institutions. We want to see global institutions take greater action on mental health and were so pleased to support the launch of a new UN policy brief on mental health and COVID-19 launched by the UN Secretary General last week.
Secondly, increased global funding. Currently only 2% of health budgets globally are spent on mental health despite 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental health condition at some point in their lives. We support country campaigners to lobby their governments for more funding and target international donors as well.
Thirdly, by raising up the voices of citizens. The Speak Your Mind Campaign is a nationally driven, globally united campaign that aims to catalyse government action on mental health to improve the accessibility and quality of mental health services all over the world. The campaign is driven by mental health advocates in 19 countries who work tirelessly to create change.
Finally, we are beginning to work on how we can support global businesses with workplace mental health, an issue that is fast being recognised as core to a successful business.

On how the current crisis has highlighted a global need to focus more on mental health

The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging the world’s mental health like never before. Those with existing mental health conditions are even more vulnerable as a result of the pandemic, whilst large groups across societies, including frontline health workers, are experiencing mental health stresses they have never faced before. Most countries weren’t set up to respond to the growing mental health crisis before COVID-19 and they certainly aren’t now. That’s why last week, as part of the Speak Your Mind campaign, we coordinated more than 200 experts, business leaders, renowned scientists and those working on the frontline from over 40 countries to sign an open letter, calling for action. We are demanding that global leaders protect and scale up mental health support, both during and after COVID-19. I invite everyone to join this movement and add their voice to the open letter. It is important that we translate the attention that mental health is receiving at the moment into tangible impact on the ground.

On employers and investing in their employees’ mental health

In many countries, employers are starting to see the value of mentally healthy workplaces and are seeking guidance on how to create them. Speak Your Mind’s recent report, Return on the Individual, demonstrated the benefits available to businesses when they invest in mental health. Work-related mental ill health is responsible for more lost days than any other work-related illness and it’s estimated that 12 billion productive days are lost each year due to depression and anxiety, at a cost of US$925 billion. Workplace mental health interventions have an average return on investment of 4.2:1 – so prioritising mental health is not only good for employees, but is also good for the bottom line. Here in the UK, through the efforts of groups like Heads Together, the City Mental Health Alliance, MIND and others, significant progress has been made. Similarly, ONE Mind in the US has done incredible work to improve workplace mental health. However, it’s important to note that workplace mental health varies drastically across different countries and contexts and there is a long way to go when we talk about employers globally. COVID-19 is changing the way we work, all around the world. In this current environment and as we return to work, there’s no doubt that wellbeing and mental health will be a priority for employees, so it must also be a priority for employers.

On her tips for protecting your mental health in a time of crisis

I have learned through my own mental health conditions over the years how to look after my own mental health, and I take this very seriously. I think it’s important to recognise that this looks different for everyone. That’s why at United for Global Mental Health, we encourage all employees to complete their own Wellness Action Plans, so managers can better understand what members of their team need to stay mentally healthy. For me, this means first and foremost looking after my physical health. Getting enough sleep and eating well have been my priority during lockdown, as I’m conscious that I may be struggling more than usual. I also make sure to set up time to talk to people I trust about how I’m doing. I talk to my family and one of my Trustees regularly and check in with my psychologist when needed. I also make sure to carve out some time for normality and fun. For me that means daily walks and playing with my dog, Tika!

As a leader, it’s important to acknowledge that you need to be mentally well yourself in order to lead your team, especially in times of crisis. Right now we are seeing increased anxiety, uncertainty, loss and grief across society and we need to be prepared to respond to our teams if they are struggling. Leaders and supervisors need to display, through their own behaviours and guidance, how to integrate work-life obligations and engage in self-care and thereby set an example for their teams. Reminding people of the wellness resources available is also important.

On how COVID-19 will change mental health advocacy

I expect there will be a number of changes. Firstly, we are already seeing growing momentum for the mental health movement. New people are adding their voices all the time – which is important, as we need more voices to strengthen the advocacy that has been building over the last few years. I also expect we’ll see more challenges from decision makers on priorities. For example, we’ve already seen some leaders we were hoping to make new commitments on mental health this year pull back because of COVID-19. We are going to see real challenges in financing, with increasing demands globally, so ensuring that mental health is fully integrated into COVID-19 responses and recovery plans is crucial. And in many countries, mental health services have been reduced, so we need to protect existing gains and make sure we don’t take a step backwards.

On the connection between the planet’s health and our own mental health

There’s a clear relationship between poor mental health and the current climate crisis. We are seeing rises in climate anxiety all over the world, and particularly in nations that are already suffering the consequences of the climate crisis, such as small island nations in the global south. Climate change will have huge consequences for us all, but particularly those who are already living in vulnerable situations and are most at risk of poor mental health. These issues are so related, so it’s important that civil society organisations working on these issues continue to work together to help build a more sustainable and mentally healthy world.

If you want to connect with us and have stories to share, please email us at Stay well and stay positive.

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