This blog was written by Mariana Bolivar, MQ’s mental health Inequalities programme lead.
For the last eight years, MQ has hosted an annual event that convenes experts, researchers, experts by experience, policy makers and mental health practitioners all into one place so that together we can tackle some of the biggest challenges in mental health.
This year, for the first time ever, the MQ Science Festival was fully virtual and completely free.
We covered a lot over the five-day festival, which hosted attendees from 37 countries and experts from a range of different disciplines.
Below we highlight 5 main calls to action from the event. Which calls to action would you highlight? #mqsciencefestival.
1. Demand evidence-based policy making
As Ricardo Acevedo, Shekhar Saxena and other speakers pointed out: Many interventions are not taken, not because of lack of evidence but due to lack of political will.
The mental health science community needs to be more proactive, insisting and specific on the demands for policy makers. This includes joint efforts with other health and social sectors and demand accountability and transparency from policy makers. We need to be better at addressing the elephant in the room.
This is particularly important to demand the actions that are needed to tackle the wider dynamics that drive chronic disease and mental distress worldwide. Many of which are being ignored despite being backed by multi-disciplinary scientific consensus and even human rights (i.e. obesity prevention, air quality, protective environments for childhood).
2. Reconnect research with our sense of compassion and shared humanity
“Compassion is so fundamental to human nature. It keeps us alive. [ ] It helps us to understand that we are ‘whole’ together. That we are a community. That we are born equal, our essence is equal. Although we are born into very un-equal circumstances. We are a shared humanity, that is what compassion tells us. It gives us the capability to care for each other, the capability to listen. The ability to build up the components we need to have trust. To trust in each other, to trust in organisations [ ] and to ask for support. To ask organisations, agencies, institutes and politics to be responsive to what we need.” – Liz Grant
We recognise the relation between physical, mental and socio-economic health. Yet, health provision is fragmented and either inconvenient or inaccessible for many patients.
For this we need to invest in primary care. General practitioners, lay health and social workers are fundamental to comprehensively assess the needs of a person, to provide early support and refer to specialised services when needed.
Furthermore, besides integrating physical and mental health services it is increasingly evident that we need to consider the broader context that individuals are part of – including socioeconomic determinants of health.
Solutions for this include:
“Mix and match” social and health interventions to maximise impact: (i.e. social prescribing, psychological counselling, income support, employment advice)
and increased collaboration across different sectors.
Cross-sectoral collaboration, is again, fundamental to tackle multi-morbidities and shared risk factors of the global burden of disease
This was highlighted during the Premature mortality discussions on day 4 of the #MQScienceFestival, particularly by Professor Carol Worthman’s talk where she discussed MQ’s Gone Too Soon programme and how this will be addressing premature mortality.
“The core message I want to convey to you all is actually the incredible value that a diversity of life experience brings, and that includes cross cultural experience and experience of different types and kinds of work. [ ]
The more diversity of experiences we have as individuals the more we are challenged to think more deeply and to question assumptions we might otherwise bring to the table.” – Nev Jones
To allow more diversity of experience and expertise in research, we need to diversify the career pathway opportunities available, including salary progression. This could include accelerated accreditation of practical and lived expertise (i.e. lay health practice, advocacy)
Digital technologies offer countless opportunities to support the prevention, detection and treatment of mental health conditions. However, they also can come with challenges that need to be urgently addressed to ensure digital mental health products work for people and not the other way around.
One of these challenges – which is also crucial for people with lived experience and the mental health community in general to be aware of – is that at the moment we do not have regulations, quality or ethical standards for the use of digital technologies in mental health and the information they collect.
Furthermore, we do not know which body would oversee those standards. Some suggested actions are to form an external body involving NGOs and lived experience.
Want to read more about the opportunities for Digital technologies in Mental health? Read this blog by Kelvin Opiepie about how it can improve healthcare in Nigeria.
You can watch all the expert presentations and thought-provoking discussions on the MQ YouTube channel here.