In an effort to be close to the people and listen to their mental health needs, WHO/Europe marked this year’s World Mental Health Day on 10 October with a series of workshops and activities in Yerevan, Armenia. The day brought together a WHO/Europe delegation with local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), associations of people living with mental health conditions, and local and national government authorities.
World Mental Health Day aims to connect mental health activists and policy-makers around the need for bolder action for mental health reform. This year, it saw the participation of a wide range of local NGOs and associations working to promote mental health services for older people, children, and people dealing with crisis and trauma.
“It is an honour for us to be in Armenia today, marking this important day for so many people across all ages. Since the pandemic, mental health has finally come under the spotlight, and we are seeing several governments taking concrete actions to prioritize this sector,” said Dr Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat, Director of WHO/Europe’s Division of Country Health Policies and Systems, during the event in Yerevan.
“Armenia has been a steadfast advocate for better mental health. As soon as we established the Pan-European Mental Health Coalition, Armenia set up its own national coalition, and we commend this leadership and commitment to mental health,” she continued.
The discussions highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as economic and security challenges in the WHO European Region, have increased mental health risks among the population, often resulting in long-lasting effects on people’s overall well-being. These are some of the reasons why members of Armenia’s National Mental Health Coalition stressed the importance of stronger mental health systems and services.
“Mental health is a priority area for our work in Armenia, and we are constantly engaged with the Ministry of Health to safeguard mental well-being as a crucial component of response and recovery,” explained Dr Jihane Tawilah, WHO Representative to Armenia.
Dr Tawilah added, “I am happy that, also thanks to the support of the European Union, we are working with the Ministry to strengthen community-based mental health care to reduce mental health and psychosocial suffering for populations affected by the armed conflict.”
The Armenian NGOs attending the event also discussed the role of the National Mental Health Coalition in meeting some of these challenges. It was established following a call by WHO/Europe’s Pan-European Mental Health Coalition, an initiative launched in 2021 to galvanize action around mental health in all areas of life by harnessing the collective wisdom of leading experts and organizations in the Region.
Dr Azzopardi-Muscat and Dr Ledia Lazeri, WHO/Europe’s Regional Adviser on Mental Health, welcomed efforts by the Government of Armenia to strengthen the country’s response to mental health issues. They also welcomed the drafting of the National Action Plan for the Maintenance and Promotion of Mental Health as instrumental in turning this vision into reality.
Open and frank discussion with WHO
The second part of the day included an informal, off-the-record conversation between the WHO delegation and people currently living with mental health conditions ranging from schizophrenia and depression to other psychological disorders.
The WHO team listened to their needs and challenges, hoping to gain a better understanding of how WHO can support national authorities and civil society in promoting an inclusive health system in Armenia.
“Thank you for your trust in WHO, for taking time out of your days, for being with us and for sharing your personal stories,” said Dr Azzopardi-Muscat. “They will be safe with us, and we will now work to make sure that, together with the Ministry, we can move forward together for better mental well-being for all.”
The WHO team, together with national authorities, also visited mental health-care facilities outside the capital in order to identify gaps and needs as well efforts aimed at deinstitutionalization in mental health.