Mental health must be part of the development agenda

'For too long, mental health has been a neglected aspect of the development agenda. Death tolls are heavy as they are these days', Minister Ulstein said at the webinar The Role of Parents for Personal and Global Development.

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The parent-child relationship is where life begins – and often where it ends.

It has tremendous impact – on the development of the child itself – on the development of our societies – for the way we all function – physically and mentally.  

So I thank the International Child Development Program (ICDP) for organizing this very important webinar.  

For too long – mental health has been a neglected aspect of global health – and of the development agenda.

Almost a year ago – Norway became the first country to launch a strategy on combatting non-communicable diseases in developing countries.

Then we were hit by the overly communicable Coronavirus.

It hit us hard.

Has it made our new strategy less important – or even impossible to implement?

Far from it.

  • Firstly, whether Covid-19 kills you or not – is determined by many things – but one of the main factors is whether you already have a non-communicable disease – like different heart conditions, cancer, diabetes or respiratory diseases. 
  • Secondly, we can only start to fathom the mental health consequences of the Coronavirus – of the virus itself – of its lockdowns – of its breakdowns of daily routines, daily joys and daily visits.   

Already before the pandemic – silent killers like mental health challenges, air pollution and tobacco – were causing 70 percent of all premature and unnecessary deaths worldwide.

Yet the fight against them receives only 1 percent of the international development funding that goes to health.

That has to change – and we have to change it even while fighting the pandemic.  

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Last week, I got to hear that mental factors could be an even bigger challenge than I thought.

Among those between 10 and 24 years old – self-harm, depression, anxiety and inter-personal violence are among the overall top ten causes of death and disease.

They cause Death of Despair.

It was the Lancet publishing their Global Burden of Disease study.  

In another article, we were informed about the consequences of Covid-19 on children and adolescents so far.

The impacts from the school-closures are severe – and so are the impacts from stretched health systems and from the loss of what for many is the only nutritious meal of the day.

We also know that domestic violence is on the way up – and there are breakdowns in family relationships, neglect, and abuse. 

This tells me that we have a massive job to do on mental health – and we have to target children and adolescents especially.

It is important now during the pandemic – it will be important in the post-Covid period – as we will seek to build back societies better and greener. 

And things are happening:

Only this week, Forut announced plans to help quarantined children in Nepal – offering them schooling, a hotline and covering other needs.

Speaking of Nepal – I think the mere list of co-sponsors to this webinar – from Adra to Save the Children – is testament to the will to address mental health.

I can see Heidi Westborg Steel and Doji Pradan of the ICDP – and I can see the new – and first – associate professor of global mental health at the University of Bergen, Ragnhild Dybdahl.   

Things are happening – and I am sure the pioneers are as happy to see it as we are to see that they are still calling the shots.  

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Parenthood is often seen as a “natural” thing – a personal relationship between the caregiver and the child.

But we can still do better – and to understand more of how to build a strong platform for the child – and make the best of its potential.

As we have heard, the ICDP has developed a model on building capacity among caregivers that has proven to work across cultural norms.

I’m impressed by the fact that the ICDP model has been implemented in 50 countries, including Norway.

Mental health is a field that requires comprehensive action – both within and outside the health sector.

Mental health is nurtured at home – in schools – and in the work place.

We have to combat stigma and exclusion.

Governments have the main responsibility – but civil society partners also play a critical role – especially in poor countries with weak health systems in place.

The children are our future – and the future is something to invest in.

The psychological capital at the earliest age is particularly important.

This reference to money and investment is more than just a metaphor.

We must invest in health systems in developing countries – so that they include mental health services.

We must invest in better care for those who suffer from depression, anxiety, self-harm – and from the cognitive consequences of Covid-19.  

Death tolls are heavy as they are these days.

We have no more young lives to lose.

Thank you.