Including perspectives from women's organizations, indigenous peoples, afro-descendants and health systems experts

14 Oct 2022
Banner of the Second Meeting of the High Level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19

Second meeting of the High-Level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19 was held on 13-14th October, 2022


Washington, D.C., October 14, 2022. The need to create inter-institutional synergies to integrate mental health in all areas of COVID-19 recovery was highlighted at the second meeting of PAHO's High-Level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19. Emphasis was placed on the importance of including political authorities, leaders of social organizations, ministries of health, education and labor, NGOs and people with lived experience in mental health, civil society representatives, journalists, financial institutions and integration mechanisms, among others. 

At this second meeting of the Commission, consultations were held with leaders of institutions and organizations related to women's health, indigenous peoples, afro-descendants and other ethnic groups, as well as with experts in health systems. In addition, the working groups' progress on the prioritized topics was presented and the structure of the final report was outlined.

During the reflections on women and mental health, it was pointed out that depression affects women more than men and that, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, partner violence against women at home has increased, making it urgent to promote multisectoral actions to address these serious problems. 

In the dialogue on indigenous peoples, afrodescendants and other ethnic groups, it was noted that these populations suffer greater inequalities, malnutrition, poverty, migration, alcohol and drug use, as well as suicide rates, in addition to historical traumas. Stress was laid on the need to define interventions that include the vision of indigenous peoples and more comprehensive, pertinent approaches, incorporating the leaders of these communities. They also highlighted the importance of having more information about mental health in these groups.

At the discussion with mental health care experts, adequate funding for mental health care was emphasized as critical. The need to strengthen prevention and community-based mental health care and deinstitutionalization of long-stay mental health services was also noted. The importance of prioritizing research related to mental disorders to improve mental health information systems with a cross-cultural and gender focus was highlighted, as well as promoting the use of virtual platforms to expand mental health care.

The members of the Commission also pointed out the need to include the generational approach: children, adolescents, adults, seniors, as fundamental elements for the prevention of mental health problems. This implies: "Starting from childhood, teaching children to identify feelings and emotions with simple tools that have a long-term impact," said Epsy Campbell, President of PAHO's High-Level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19.  At the same time, she also explained the importance of documenting and socializing good practices related to the Commission's recommendations, and of broadening the dialogue with the population regarding the meaning of mental health and its implications in life, health and well-being.

Another priority issue mentioned was the prevention of mental health among workers. "We cannot focus only on treatment; prevention among workers is fundamental," said Néstor Mendez, Co-chair of PAHO's High-Level Commission. He also stressed the relevance of including migration and the rights of migrants in the discussion, as well as the importance of States adopting innovative models to address mental health problems in this group.

"Emotional health, mental health and inner balance is fundamental to building the new world. First we have to be compassionate with ourselves and then with other people who have often been so cruelly stigmatized that they are unable to rise up. We will only be well when all people are well," concluded, the President of the High Level Commission.

Fotografía de grupo de los asistentes a la Segunda Reunión de la Comisión de Alto Nivel de Salud Mental y COVID-19 de la OPS
Participants on the Second Meeting of the PAHO High-Level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19