Media Stories

CPMH Commemorates World Mental Health Day with Roundtable Discussion

On World Mental Health Day this year the Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health again organised a roundtable discussion to commemorate the day. With this year’s theme, set by the World Federation for Mental Health, being “Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World”, we invited three researchers to present on their work relating to this theme. South African actress and TV presenter, Bonnie Mbuli, ended the presentation by speaking about her own experience with clinical depression and anxiety.

CPMH Co-director, Prof Katherine Sorsdahl, opened the event. “Adolescence and young adulthood lay down the foundation for health that determines health trajectories across the life course.”

Dr Jason Bantjes
Dr Jason Bantjes

Dr Jason Bantjes, a psychologist with a masters degree in Counselling Psychology and a masters degree in Research Psychology is currently a lecturer in the Psychology Department at Stellenbosch University and the South African National Representative for the International Association of Suicide Prevention.

He presented on the Caring Universities Project – a study being done by Stellenbosch University and the University of Cape Town in collaboration with the World Mental Health Surveys International College Study Project (WMH-ICS). In a sample of over 1400 undergraduates 38% had a mental disorder in their lifetime and 85% began before 18.

“This highlights the need for intervention in younger adolescents. If universities need to address students’ mental health care needs, Stellenbosch University would need to employ 110 full-time psychologists!”

Dr Tara Carney
Dr Tara Carney

Dr Tara Carney is employed as a Senior Scientist in the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit of the South African Medical Research Council.

Dr Carney presented findings on a feasibility study of an evidence-based brief intervention in Cape Town targeting substance use and adolescents. Some of her findings showed that early initiation of substance use can progress to adult substance use disorders. “Brief interventions for adolescents have been shown to be effective in many settings, and they’re cost-effective.”

Dr Sarah Skeen
Dr Sarah Skeen

Dr Sarah Skeen is the Programme Director for the Partnership for Alcohol and AIDS Intervention Research (PAAIR) programme. She has been responsible for the coordination and implementation of several large studies in South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, and Kenya.

Dr Skeen noted that the Helping Adolescents Thrive evidence review identified effective components of universal psychosocial interventions for improving mental health, risk behaviour and self-harm and that interpersonal skills and emotion regulation skills are top components.

Bonnie Mbuli
Bonnie Mbuli

Bonnie Mbuli then spoke frankly about her journey with clinical depression and anxiety. “My longing is to be part of the conversation on intervention and what it may look like … I want to encourage people to not be afraid to open the door and face the darkness,” Mbuli said.

“I’ve tried to just share with people the fight, the fight for your mental health. Help is out there and help helps … It’s got to be a mind, body and soul approach,”she said.

The event was partly sponsored by UCT’s Division of Public Mental Health’s social responsiveness committee.

Prof Dan Stein, Dr Jason Bantjes, Prof Katherine Sorsdahl, Bonnie Mbuli, Dr Sarah Skeen, Dr Tara Carney and Prof Ashraf Kagee.
FundaMentalSDG Media Stories

UN prioritises mental health in new Development Agenda2030

UCT’s Professor Crick Lund, director of the Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health in the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, believes the inclusion of specific mental health targets in the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is a major breakthrough in the global effort to get mental health on the development policy agenda.

This follows the UN’s announcement earlier this month that its member nations had adopted the new Development Agenda2030, which will lead global development policy over the next 15 years, and that mental health will be a development priority.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals will guide efforts across the globe to reduce poverty and increase both physical and mental health by 2030.

“People living in poverty have increased risk for a range of mental health conditions through a number of causal pathways, and conversely people living with mental illness are at risk of drifting into or remaining in poverty,” said Lund.

“Including mental health in international development targets provides an opportunity for countries to implement and monitor efforts at breaking the cycle of poverty and mental illness.”

With this historic decision the UN is addressing the needs of millions of people with mental health problems. Mental Disorders are common and lethal: one in four people in the world experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.

In most countries people with mental health problems are not treated, because of due a lack of mental health systems and services. In low income countries up to 80% of people do not receive treatment, and many people are subject to inappropriate treatment, human rights violations and isolation.

In 2012, suicide was the 15th leading cause of death, and 75% of suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries. The social and economic costs to nations and society are tremendous.

“We now need to work closely with governments and international development agencies to implement the mental health indicators, which are related to suicide rates and treatment coverage for severe mental illnesses,” said Lund.

The FundaMentalSDG Initiative was led by a steering group made up of 26 leaders in the field of global mental health. Prof Lund is a member of the steering group representing South Africa, through two UCT-led multi-country programmes happening across 8 countries in Africa and Asia: Programme for Improving Mental health care (PRIME) funded by UKAID, and the AFrica Focus on Intervention Research for Mental Health (AFFIRM) funded by the US government’s National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH).

Graham Thornicroft, Professor of Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, and director of the global initiative FundaMentalSDG to promote mental health in the UN Development Agenda 2030 said: “The clear inclusion of mental health as a priority within the Sustainable Development Goals is a major achievement.”

More people will receive mental health treatment

The aims and potential impact of this new mental health development priority will be:

fewer suicides, more people with severe mental illness getting treatment and more national and international investment in mental health services.

The consequences of the new mental health priority in the Development Agenda 2030 are far-reaching: The 2030 Agenda is a global policy defining international development priorities, and will lead countries to set priorities for mental health in their national policies and resource planning. Low- and middle-income countries will increase their efforts to reach the targets in mental health, and higher income countries will support less developed nations with financial, human and knowledge resources.

Indicators to measure and make the Development Agenda work

To make the Sustainable Development Agenda and mental health targets work the UN Member States now need to agree upon strong and robust indicators to ensure measurable, actionable, attainable results.

Thornicroft said: “The most important next step is for the UN to adopt two specific indicators (referring to treatment coverage for people with severe mental illness, and to suicide rates). Tracking these measures for every country worldwide will allow us to quantify progress to universal mental health coverage in the future.”

These indicators are crucial, because they will make progress in mental health measureable and will help to hold countries and their governments liable to their commitments and achievements. Only with strong indicators in the SDGs, mental health will really count in the development Agenda2030.


Nicole Votruba

Co-ordinator FundaMentalSDG

Tel: +44 (0) 207 848 0498

Email: fundamentalsdg[at]

Graham Thornicroft

Director FundaMentalSDG

Email: graham.thornicroft[at]

Health Service and Population Research Department

Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN)

King’s College London

David Goldberg Centre Rm: M1.16 PO Box 28

De Crespigny Park | Denmark Hill

London SE5 8AF

United Kingdom



FundaMentalSDG is a global initiative to strengthen mental health in global development and include mental health in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and indicators.

FundaMentalSDG propose 2 indicators (No. 23 & 28) to measure the success of the SDGs and ensure that the Agenda2030 targets on mental health will be met. The indicators are fully aligned with the WHO Global Mental Health Action Plan 2015-2030:

  • Indicator 23: Probability of dying between exact ages 30 and 70 from any of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, or suicide
  • Indicator 28: Proportion of persons with a severe mental disorder (psychosis, bipolar affective disorder, or moderate-severe depression) who are using services

FundaMentalSDG has drafted a position paper and supporting documents to advocate at the national statistics department and UN STATs.  More information & documents for download at

2030 Agenda

In the Agenda 2030 declaration the United Nations point out that behavioural, developmental and neurological disorders constitute a major challenge for sustainable development. They make a clear commitment to mental health stating that they want ‘A world with equitable and universal access […] to health care and social protection, where physical, mental and social well-being are assured.’ The UN further declare that in order ‘to promote physical and mental health and well-being, and to extend life expectancy for all, we must achieve universal health coverage and access to quality health care. No one must be left behind.’

In goal 3 of the declaration, the Health Goal, the UN point out the importance of mental health for overall health and global development. They state that by 2030, the aim of all countries is to ‘reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being’ (target 3.4); ‘Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse’ (target 3.5), ‘universal health coverage’ (target 3.8);