Mental health care is not a factory. It’s an ecosystem.

3 minute read

Covid-19 has all made us connect with our mental health in some way, we have all been impacted. Whether it has been from managing the negative effects of isolation, the challenges of childcare and work or managing grief and anxiety.

What is clear is that more than ever we are in need of mental health services to support us whether it be short term or long term.

So what would it take to create mental health services that really meet the needs of communities and individuals across the globe? What would it look like?

Too often we think the stumbling block in addressing this challenge is to assume that the mental health sector is like other sectors - that you just need to find a small number of ‘innovative solutions’ that can be rolled out at scale.

This approach we strongly feel does not work. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to mental health – no vaccine that can be rolled out universally. We all have mental health. But our experiences and needs vary hugely – across cultures, geographies, ages, economic groups.

Instead of seeing mental health care as a factory, we need to see it as an ecosystem. The overall strength of an ecosystem depends on its diversity, its interconnectedness and on it receiving the right nutrients to support the full range of life. In a similar way, a resilient global mental health ecosystem that meets the full spectrum of mental health needs requires a varied network of services, operating at different scales and through different approaches and nourished by sufficient human and financial resources.

At Ember Mental Health we support and fund locally-led mental health organisations in low-resource settings. We believe that they can play an essential role in the global mental health ecosystem if they receive the support that they need and deserve.

These organisations have the ability to really understand the context and communities they are working with and to overcome barriers such as stigma. Given that three out of four people with mental health conditions live in low- and middle-income countries, local organisations in low-resource settings are a critical force in the effort to address the mental health care gap.

Since launching Ember Mental Health in 2019, we have worked with more than 25 locally-led mental health initiatives across the globe and built a network of over 350. All are heavily under-resourced but have huge potential to meet the needs of their communities. Many have significant potential to scale or be replicated elsewhere.

So instead of trying to find two or three silver bullet solution to mental health care, we need to mobilise a movement of passionate organisations, individuals, businesses, governments, funders and philanthropists to create an ecosystem with the right nutrients for mental health care to flourish. These services need financial resources, mentorship, human resources, wellbeing support and recognition to name a few.

The Women’s Leadership course at Said Business School provided me with the support and encouragement I needed to continue to be bold and visionary in the direction that we are going with Ember Mental Health. Could you contribute to the ecosystem? We would love to hear from others who would like to join us on this journey to creating a global mental health ecosystem, so that millions (or billions?) more people can access the mental health care they need, where they are, in ways that work for them.

Ember Mental Health supports and funds excellent community-based initiatives in low-resource settings so they can grow and thrive. If you want to find out more, please visit our website.

Oxford Women's Leadership Development Programme