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Aligning Mental Health with Canada's G7 Charlevoix Priorities

Katrina Bland, G7 Research Group
June 8, 2018

On June 4, 2018, the G7 Research Group's 2017 G7 Taormina Final Compliance Report was released. It revealed that the G7's lowest compliance was with its commitment to pursue "policies that advance" mental health improvements across the globe, with 25%. This is much lower than the G7's overall average compliance of 80% with the priority commitments assessed from the Taormina Summit in May 2017. It is also much lower than the G7's historical average compliance of 77% with its health commitments.

By member, the highest compliance with the mental health commitment was from the European Union; it was the only member that fully complied. The United Kingdom partially complied, while the rest of the G7 members failed to comply.

Linking Canada's Priorities at Charlevoix to Mental Health

As a veteran G7 host, Canada has often made health a priority. During Canada's last turn as G7 host at Muskoka in 2010, Canada contributed $2.85 billion, of the total $7.3 billion that was raised in the five years after the Muskoka Summit, for a maternal, newborn and child health initiative. Yet this year at Charlevoix health has been left off the agenda. Of all the underrepresented issues within health, mental health is the least visible. Most individuals suffering from poor mental health suffer silently, go without treatment and whose symptoms or illness are thus not recorded. In a paper published in 2016, Daniel Vigo of Harvard Medical School reported that mental health conditions make up 13% of the global burden of disease, while funds addressing mental health only make up 0.4% of global aid spending on health. With this neglect in mind, there is a place for mental health within each of the five priorities of the Charlevoix Summit.

Inclusive Economic Growth and Jobs of the Future

The first and second of these priorities are investing in growth that works for everyone and preparing for jobs of the future. There is a strong connection between mental health and this priority. Economic growth often leaves those suffering from poor mental health behind, and untreated mental health issues result in lower productivity, reduced labour participation and increased welfare payments. The World Bank estimates that 10 billion work days are lost each year as a result. Investing in growth without investing in improved mental health services and policy will not allow for the achievement of the full potential of the global economy, and fails the most vulnerable. Moreover, the growth of the digital and blue economies, and the shift from the traditional to the green energy sector will increase structural unemployment. Individuals who lose their jobs as a result of this transition are at risk of depression and other mental health challenges. Preparing for the jobs of the future cannot be effective without improving mental health policy.

Gender Equality

The third priority is gender equality and female empowerment. The G7 has often framed health as a women's issue. It is thus unusual, and counterproductive, that Canada has left health out of the Charlevoix agenda, which seeks to mainstream gender throughout each of its chosen core priorities.

Moreover, gender-based violence, sexual assault/harassment and sexual discrimination affect not only the victim, but their family and friends as well. The mental health consequences of these experiences often extend far into the future, and can include serious disorders such as post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression and socially isolating behaviour.

The mental health of primary caregivers, especially expecting mothers, is also important. Perinatal mental health issues such as post-partum psychosis, anxiety and depression can cause complications in pregnancy, affecting up to 20% of the population. Perinatal mental health issues often go under the radar due to social taboos, thus leaving them unaddressed and leaving a gap in awareness and knowledge of how to treat caregivers' mental health.

Climate Change, Oceans and Clean Energy

The fourth priority is working together on climate change, oceans and clean energy. As climate change creates more erratic and unpredictable weather patterns and rising sea levels, an average of 21.5 million individuals are estimated to be forcibly displaced and will be required to change their entire way of life. Relocation is not a smooth process, and results in stress and trauma for many. To incorporate mental health services into climate change adaptation strategies would smooth the transition and help societies adapt at the local level. Additionally, as G7 members make commitments to invest in green technology and energy, and the blue economy, there are new opportunities to improve the health and well-being of the people whose livelihoods will be affected by this change.

Moreover, spending more time in and working in green spaces has proven benefits for mental health and health overall, due to increased physical exercise and reduced exposure to air pollutants and noise.

The G7 should thus consider the link between mental health and the environment.

Peace and Security

The final and fifth priority is building a more secure and peaceful world. In the face of school shootings, terrorist attacks and civilian violence, mental health has a place in peace and security discussions. Poor mental health and feelings of exclusion from society can make individuals vulnerable to hate-filled propaganda and radicalization, especially online. Thus, while it may not be the sole or even primary factor, when asking how anyone could ever take such violent actions, it should also be asked if enough was done in terms of access to appropriate support services, including mental health ones. Indeed, this connection has not been made by the G7. Although the G7 had 88% compliance with their Taormina commitment to combat online extremism and recruitment, compliance did not include addressing mental health as this was not expressed by the leaders in this commitment. Moreover, in the planning of peacemaking processes, counselling and mediation should be provided to work through imbedded resentment and division that prolongs conflict.

The other major lens through which peace and security will be addressed is migration. Many individuals in G7 members are worried about how mass inflows of migrants will adjust to different cultural norms and expectations. Individualized and easily accessible mental health services are necessary to help migrants adapt to a new society.

At Charlevoix

At Charlevoix, Canada wants to mainstream gender throughout its agenda. The G7 summit has made much progress on gender, but has left out other marginalized groups dealing with intersecting inequalities. Mental health often creates invisible and silent suffering, and more research is needed to pinpoint its causes and solutions. Considering it as one of many factors throughout the Charlevoix Summit will demonstrate that the leaders recognize its importance. The G7 can thus set a direction for other global, national and sub-national efforts.

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