Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Global Mental Health @Harvard Open Day:
Celebrating the diversity of global mental health activities in our community
In spite of continuous efforts and significant advancements in the field, the burden of mental health problems and the unmet needs for care remain an uphill global crisis. Right now though there is an unprecedented momentum in the awareness and interest of global mental health from governments, business leaders, and universities to address these needs. Aligned and taking advantage of this momentum, 2018 marked the launch of the Global Mental Health @ Harvard Initiative, a cross-Harvard effort aspiring to transform global mental health through education, research, innovation, and engagement. The same year coincided with the Lancet Commission on global mental health and sustainable development led by Professor Vikram Patel (HMS/HSPH) and Professor Shekhar Saxena (HSPH) and a team of global experts calling for a partnership to transform mental health globally in the era of the sustainable development goals.
One year on, the 2nd Annual Global Mental Health @Harvard Open Day took place on the 13th of April 2019, bringing together a wide-range of stakeholders from across Harvard, the Boston community and the US. The symposium was designed to unite a diverse forum of stakeholders in the field of GMH, ranging from students, academics, researchers from diverse disciplines, policy makers, clinicians, NGO’s, and people with lived experiences of mental health, in keeping with the theme to ‘Celebrate diversity of global mental health activities in our community’.
This one-day event served as an opportunity to review progress, celebrate success, discuss the current landscape in the field, reassess existent barriers to realizing the aspirations of global mental health, and identify practical steps to overcome these moving forward. An agenda of the conference can be accessed here. “The field of global mental health covers such a broad array of disciplines - so in developing the agenda for an all-encompassing event such as this, we felt it was necessary to draw attention to that and celebrate the diversity of the work being done by our colleagues in the field.” shared Open Day lead coordinator Juliana Lynn Restivo (Global Mental Health Research Assistant, HMS) “And I think we were successful - our presenters were politicians, clinicians, funders, implementers, and current students whose work ranged from policy, addiction, trauma, digital technology, culturally sensitive services, education, refugees, college students, to the mental health of the incarcerated. It was a powerful day to have everyone together learning from each other.”
The opening plenary was delivered by Professor Vikram Patel, Chair of the GMH@Harvard Steering Committee, who drew attention to the historical evolution of mental health services, outlining recent advancements and key milestones. This was followed by the symposium keynote speaker, Patrick J. Kennedy, former Congressman (D‐RI), lead author of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, and founder of The Kennedy Forum and DontDenyMe.org. Participants were inspired by Patrick’s personal story of overcoming societal stigma, in his case particularly in the public eye, and using it as a driving force to lead and implement change. As a vocal advocate for mental health, Patrick articulated that ‘global mental health is the healthcare fight of our time’ and that we all share responsibility to set ambitious and binding national and international goals to make mental health essential health.
Following formal presentations, attendees were invited to join poster presentations, and to network during lunchtime. Informal breakout sessions took place simultaneously with topics ranging from Financing & Accountability, The Mental Health Workforce, Mental Health Promotion Science, and Human Rights. These generated thoughtful discussions and sparked interesting conversations between attendees and facilitators.
The rest of the day was structured into short presentations (‘flash talks’) and panel discussions revolving around a wide range of topical themes. In his talk entitled ‘New Science – New Finance for Mental Health’, Garen Staglin (Co-Founder and Board Chairman of One Mind) elegantly articulated not only the need to boost mental health funding, but most importantly to establish adequate governance to adequately manage funding, and to make evidence-based choices informed by academia. Professor Shekhar Saxena’s talk complimented Mr. Staglin’s as he shared the announcement of the Countdown Global Mental Health 2030 partnership which was formally established in February of 2019 as an accountability framework for the existing and future investments. Professor Stephen P. Marks (HSPH) ) spoke about the need to promote the ‘paradigm shift’ from the medial/charity model to the social/human rights model and to ensure that mental health continues to be acknowledged as a key human right for all.
Several innovative community interventions and studies conducted in both low and middle income countries and high income countries highlighted the need to give a voice to the communities, to harness the power of trained non-specialists, and engage the experiences of people with lived experiences of mental health problems. One such example was showcased by Dr. Sarah Jensen’s (Research Program on Children and Adversity – Boston College, School of Social Work) family strengthening and early child development intervention which has led to reduced family violence in Rwanda. Anna Bartuska (Community Psychiatry PRIDE, MGH) and Dr. Emma Cardeli (Refugee Trauma and Resilience Center at Boston Children’s Hospital) separately focused on two vulnerable population groups that are often overlooked but who innovative mental health care is imperative, high-risk incarcerated young men and refugees, respectfully. Promotion of mental health and well-being in children and adolescents were highlighted in presentations by graduate student Miao Xue and undergraduate student Tom Osborn. Miao’s work in China emphasized the importance of mental health promotion in children with parents who have mental health challenges. Tom presented on an intervention in Kenya with adolescents experiencing anxiety and depression.
The importance of addressing mental health within the workplace and on college campuses was also represented through a series of talks. Moira Hennessy (Harvard Humanitarian Initiative) communicated loud and clear the need for core training on resilience and stress response as part of all professions, especially those in humanitarian leadership roles. The case was also made for the importance of leveraging the power of technology. Child Psychiatry Fellow, Dr Leslie Tarver (McLean) shared her research highlighting the need to make app-based psychotherapy available, especially to the younger generation of Harvard college students who face long waiting periods or are less likely to seek support formally. HSPH Doctoral Student Jenny Hsi focused her presentation on sharing the student-led work at Harvard to expand culturally-specific peer counselling programs such as the Asian Women’s Action for Resilience and Empowerment (AWARE) and conferences such as: Young, Gifted & Well: Mental Health and Emotional Wellness for Students of Color.
The closing plenary was delivered by Dr Giuseppe Raviola (HMS/PIH) who amplified the need to take action through a recent short documentary by John Green. The vlog showcased the profound recent events which took place in the only psychiatric hospital in Sierra Leone as chains which were used to restrain patients were taken down. Dr Raviola ended his plenary by highlighting the strategic priorities of the GlobalMentalHealth@Harvard initiative, acknowledging that the field’s success is the product of decades of sector-wide multidisciplinary collaboration to advance research, clinical implementation, and policy making.
By the end of the day, the key message of the 2nd annual GMH@Harvard Open Day echoed loud and clear throughout the room: we need to act across society, across all levers and drivers of our health, to work in partnership and promote intersectoral collaboration to reduce mental health disparities between and within nations.
The event proceedings summary is written by Bogdan Chiva-Giurca, MBBS, MBA (healthcare foundation), Collaborator, Harvard Global Health Institute. Edited by Professor Vikram Patel and Juliana Lynn Restivo