From education to employment

Business and Government Remove Stigma by Making Mental Health a Priority

In a session on mental health at The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019 (23 Jan), H.R.H. The Duke of Cambridge told participants that it is often the “elephant in the room” that no one wants to talk about.

He said that when he decided to work on the issue some three years ago, “Not one celebrity wanted to join us.” He pointed out that much work has been done in the United Kingdom since then to counter the fear, embarrassment and stigma around mental health.

He said the fact that there is a session dedicated to mental health at the World Economic Forum stands testimony to the success of such efforts everywhere.
More people need to talk about it, more leaders of businesses and governments, The Duke of Cambridge said. He added that in the year ahead, his focus will be to use sport as a vehicle to break the stigma around mental health, and on suicide especially among men in the UK.
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, said mental health has been one of the priorities for the well-being budget her government will bring out this year, the world’s first. “The sad fact of New Zealand is that everyone knows someone who has taken their own life,” she said, adding that in a country of 5 million people, more than 600 commit suicide every year.
“I’ve lost friends,” she said, adding: “For us, it is a moral issue, it is equally an economic issue … it affects your productivity and is a good reason why business should take it up.”
John Flint, Chief Executive Officer of HSBC Holdings, said HSBC was one of the first large businesses to address mental health issues among its staff. Flint has made well-being and mental health a focus since he took up his position last year, with his aim being to “build the healthiest human system in the industry”. He said he has taken the lead on addressing mental health issues so his colleagues down the entire hierarchy can feel comfortable doing so. “Everyone has mental health,” he added. “We’re all on some part of the spectrum.”
There is a profound difference between being at one’s best and not being one’s best, Flint said, emphasizing the importance of making sure that people are well and rested. His initiative is working well in some of the 66 countries where HSBC operates and is meeting with silence in others. This, he said, points to the need to develop a better cultural understanding of the place. In the year ahead, his efforts will be to equip managers with basic mental health skills, so they can help those working under them.
Dixon Chibanda, Director of the African Mental Health Research Institute, said that most countries invest in psychiatric institutions, which is an “outdated concept”. The institute has launched the community-based Friendship Bench programme, where community grandmas are trained in the basics of cognitive behaviour therapy and provide support for those with mental health issues.
The programme has been cost-effective and replicable, based on rigorous research and rooted in people’s lived experiences, the sharing of which contributes significantly to the therapeutic effect of the programme, Chibanda said. More than 40,000 people have used the bench; the physical bench has evolved over the years, its shape has evolved with the therapy, and users see is not just as a bench but as a space for healing where they know they will be welcomed with empathy.
“Over the last 15 years, there has been an exponential growth of evidence-based programmes that tick the box in terms of evidence, cost-effectiveness, scalability,” Chibanda said, adding that there are quite a number of programmes applying this research.
Bernard J. Tyson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Kaiser Permanente, a US-based integrated healthcare consortium, said that to address mental health effectively, the entire health system needs to be transformed – away from a “fix me”, “piecemeal” system. His work at Kaiser Permanente involves three building blocks – medical excellence, mental health and wellness, and social care – all of which work in sync to address mental health issues. He said there should be mental health carers in primary health set-ups, and greater use of technological solutions so people can reach out. People no longer leave their problems behind because they carry their mobile phones to work, and workplace policies need to recognize this, he said.
In an on-the-spot poll, he asked the session participants if they knew anyone with mental health issues and nearly 90% put their hands up. Tyson said this is “the reality of life in the 21st century”.
Tyson also made a case for improving the understanding of mental health among prison staff. He said prisons have served as “default mental health hospitals” in the United States, even as the prison system is ill-informed and ill-equipped to deal with those issues. “There is a lack of infrastructure in totality,” he said, adding that there is need to revisit the laws that allow an institution to incarcerate a person for their safety but without their consent.
The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting brings together more than 3,000 global leaders from politics, government, civil society, academia, the arts and culture as well as the media. Convening under the theme, Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, participants are focusing on new models for building sustainable and inclusive societies in a plurilateral world.

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