Mental Illness Is On The Rise Across The World, She’s Fighting Back

Exploring the state of global mental health with Elisha London, CEO of an organization demanding action from countries across the world


It’s World Mental Health Day, and we’re taking this opportunity to broaden our focus and dive into the state of mental health across the entire globe. 

Elisha London is a champion of mental health and the CEO and Founder of United for Global Mental Health. In this interview, Elisha walks us through what’s happening on the global scale for mental health, opens up about her personal mental health story, and shares what she thinks is the key to solving the global mental health crisis.

IDM: Would you mind sharing your own personal journey with mental health?

Elisha: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for asking. I suffered a trauma and was diagnosed with PTSD and chronic depression, which really pushed me to the edge. I could afford the treatment that I needed, which I was really grateful for. With the right support, I've recovered and am living life back to my full potential, though it did take me about three years, even with all the support that I received then.

IDM: How did your life and mindset shift after your experience? 

Elisha: It did shift my life. I lost an awful lot during that time. I really lost my community, friends and the ability to work, so there were a lot of very tangible losses in my life. But when I was really ill, I was experiencing what it was like to work through something that I'd never been equipped to handle. The world wasn’t particularly friendly to me, either. Just not knowing how to respond. So it really did shift my mindset, both in terms of how I live my own life and now understanding how our world does or doesn’t respond, as well.

This global mental health crisis is getting worse and the world is just not set up to respond to it. There's a lot more action that's needed.

IDM: Was mental health on your radar before your diagnosis? How has your experience informed the action you’ve been taking within recent years?

Elisha: It wasn't something I really ever thought about until 2013. All of that support and recovery inspired me to work for mental health. I was the campaign director for Heads Together for the Royal family in England. Through my own interest in global issues, I've discovered the kinds of campaigns you've seen in the US, UK, and Australia, but most people around the world don't have access to the kind of treatment I had. For most people, treatment is non-existent. This global mental health crisis is getting worse and the world is just not set up to respond to it. There's a lot more action that's needed.

IDM: World Mental Health Day is coming up, what’s the state of mental health in the world right now?

Elisha: The state of mental health, globally, isn't uniform. Every country has their own challenges. But having said that, we know that mental health conditions across the world are on the rise. We also know that about 80 percent of people with mental health conditions live in low and middle income countries. In those countries, more than 75 percent of people receive no treatment at all. 

IDM: Are we taking the right steps to improve the situation?

Elisha: I think there are pockets of activity around the world, and I think we're starting to see the coming together of a global mental health movement. But after so long, [global mental health] was so poorly neglected, and there's an awful long way to go. In this mental health crisis, every 40 seconds someone dies in our world by suicide. But we’re starting to see the beginning of that mental health revolution and starting to see everyone coming together to address this.


IDM: You’re the CEO and founder of United for Global Mental Health which recently launched the Speak Your Mind campaign. What does that work look like? 

Elisha: United for Global Mental Health is focused on providing advocacy campaigning work around the world and working on global financing as a way to try and unite that global call to action, so that we're speaking with one voice.

Speak Your Mind is a campaign that we’ve created across 15 countries — low, middle, and high income countries — and we ask what people want to change. Every country is different, but across the board there is a very common acknowledgement that our leaders aren't valuing mental health. They just aren’t responding with action and investment. More investment is needed and more support to people with lived experience to have the powered solutions, the protection of human rights and the need to mass public education campaigns are really, across the board, needed. 

Speak Your Mind [is bringing] us together to create a united voice. We're starting to see more and more countries that want to be a part of it, and we're also seeing some amazing successes. One is in the small country, Tonga. The Speak Your Mind campaigners have managed to get the national health budget tripled and youth mental health policy in place, just as we started to develop the campaign back in January this year. And that's incredible. 

Another example is in Sierra Leone, just last week. The government is making new commitments to review their Lunacy Act of 1902, which promoted involuntary incarceration of anyone with a mental health condition. So it’s great that right now we’re starting to see progress and updating across the world.

[We need to] really work towards a world where mental health is valued and treated in the same way as physical health, so everyone, everywhere has someone to turn to when their mental health needs support.

IDM: Tell us about the political declaration made at the United Nations in September.  Why was it so historic?

Elisha: On the 20th of September, there was a Universal Health Coverage declaration at the United Nations, whereby all governments declared the need for universal health care. We worked with the global community to advocate to make sure that commitment included not just physical health but also mental health. And that was passed. So really for the first time, all countries have agreed upon the need to provide universal mental and physical health care. And there's a long way to go to put it in place. But again, we're starting to see the movement towards that being possible.

IDM: What do you think is the key to transforming global action around mental health? 

Elisha: I think we are stronger when we are together. And I think a united, global approach that brings together all the different partners and individuals that need to come together is so important. 

So having the academics who know what we have to research in finding new solutions, elevating the voices of the young campaigners who want to see this change, the leaders coming together and acting, the funders putting their money down, the media portraying this directly, and the entertainment industry going beyond just talking about it -- it’s all necessary.

I think that this united approach and call to action is key. [We need to] really work towards a world where mental health is valued and treated in the same way as physical health, so everyone, everywhere has someone to turn to when their mental health needs support. 

So it actually needs to start with citizens raising their voice. 

We're calling on people to just take 40 seconds, since every 40 seconds someone dies by suicide. Take 40 seconds, call for what you want to change, and show leaders that you want that change to happen. We’re calling on all our leaders to educate, invest and empower, so that mental health becomes a reality.

IDM: So what's next, moving forward? 

Elisha: Well the first thing is that we want to try and show that there is a demand for this. So we want a million people to sign the global voice petition. [To show that the] demand is there. 

We will then continue working with countries to achieve the objectives for what they want to change in their countries. 

[For World Mental Health Day], we are launching the Museum of Lost and Found Potential, which tells the really tangible stories of loss and gain that are happening around our world.

Our goal is to make the case that this is something that's valuable for our world to invest in. We will then be taking that around the world to have more leaders hear about it. And we hope that next year in 2020, 2021 and all the years to come, we'll start to see more and more action by leaders putting their money where their mouth is. 

Hopefully, we’ll start to see some of those statistics get better.

Take 40 Seconds to make your voice heard and sign Speak Your Mind’s global voice petition.

Chris Wood