Let’s talk about mental health – with CBM’s Julian Eaton

Esterei is a member of CBM's partner Mental Health Users and Carers Association (MEHUCA) local committee, in Malawi ©CBM/Hayduk.

Mental health conditions like depression are a major cause of disability and ill-health worldwide, often leading to immense suffering and limiting a person’s ability to live independently. In developing countries, people are more likely to experience poverty, unemployment, migration and poor health and education systems, all of which increase vulnerability to mental illness.

Julian Eaton is CBM Global’s Mental Health Director, working with international agencies to improve mental health care.

Why is CBM investing in mental health?

Julian Eaton, CBM Global, head shotMental health is an essential part of what makes life worth living; the ability to manage day-to-day experiences positively, to enjoy our relationships, and to contribute to society. In many of the countries where CBM works, people have to cope with a lot of stress, especially the most marginalised people in society, who have to deal every day with poverty, social exclusion and disability. There are also many people with conditions like depression or schizophrenia, who are not able to receive healthcare. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, less than 10% of people with severe mental illness have access to services.

How does CBM help?

Our role is to support local partners and governments to bring about meaningful and sustained change in countries where we work. As with all our other work, we identify local partners who are committed to their communities. This is particularly important in mental health, because an in-depth understanding of local culture is important. We ensure that programmes are based on international evidence and deliver transformative change in people’s lives.

CBM currently has over 40 programmes ranging from improving access to mental health services, to supporting people with mental health problems in livelihoods and access to other rights like education and the right to vote. 

What are the main challenges?

Mental health is generally a very low priority in all parts of the world, and very poorly resourced in developing countries. We have to work very hard to increase the profile of mental health and to bring to attention the unmet needs of people with mental health problems in countries where we work. In addition to this official neglect, people face many abuses in the communities where they live, and we often need to engage with communities to change attitudes and reduce stigma and discrimination. In fact this is something that is always identified as a major problem for people affected, who are often excluded from community life, education and employment.

Has there been an improvement in mental health support globally?

I have been fortunate to live and work through a period of revolution in global mental health. When I started 15 years ago, mental health was not on the international development agenda at all. Since then, we have seen a huge increase in interest in mental health, and all the major world bodies that support health and development accept that this is an area that we must priorities. Change happens more slowly at country level, but we are now starting to see increased investment there also. Historically, people who have experience of mental health problems themselves have often not has a voice in making decisions about their own care. It is important that global organisations recognise this important principle, and CBM has been instrumental in supporting the establishment of organisations of people with mental health problems in many countries, who are able to advocate for their rights at national and international levels.

What is your role at CBM?

I am the Mental Health Director for CBM, so my role is to support a team of mental health experts and country level CBM staff, to ensure that our work is of high quality and carried out to high standards. I also help to steer the overall policy and direction of mental health work in CBM, as well as work with our partners, including the World Health Organisation and other international agencies to improve mental health care globally. I am involved in research to provide good evidence for effective services.

What do you find most rewarding?

For me, the most rewarding aspect of my work is to see the hundreds of thousands of people who benefit from our programmes, who otherwise would continue to face neglect and abuse on a daily basis. I am motivated by meeting and working with our many partners around the world, who work tirelessly to support people with mental health problems in their communities. The great successes they have achieved have been particularly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic, where we have seen many innovative ways that they have promoted mental wellbeing during these difficult times.

We are very grateful for the solidarity that CBM supporters have shown with some of the most marginalised people around the world. Through this support we have seen many people released from chains, able to access good quality mental health care, and go on to achieve their potential, contributing to their communities, and no longer being marginalised.

Find out more about CBM’s mental health work.

Images: 1st – Esterei is a member of CBM’s partner Mental Health Users and Carers Association (MEHUCA) local committee, in Malawi ©CBM/Eshuchi. 2nd – Julian Eaton, CBM Global Mental Health Director.


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