Translating science to mental health policy

By Dr Janice Wilson (Health Quality & Safety Commission), Robyn Shearer (Deputy Director-General, Mental Health and Addiction), and Marion Blake (Platform) attended an exchange hosted by the American Psychological Association.

Earlier this year, the American Psychological Association's Office of International Affairs hosted 16 international leaders as part of the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership (IIMHL).

IIMHL is a unique international collaborative that utilises innovation sharing, networking, and problem-solving in order to improve mental health and addictions services in Australia, England, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, the United States and Sweden.

IIMHL hosts a weeklong leadership exchange every 16 months, which comprises a two-day ‘match" for small groups of attendees on specific topics – a learning intensive.

This is followed by a larger two-day network meeting for all attendees. In 2019, the matches were in the United States and Canada, with the Network Meeting in Washington DC.

Knowledge exchange on mental health policy

The CEO of the American Psychological Association (APA) is Arthur Evans, a long-time member of IIMHL.

APA hosted a "match" entitled Knowledge Exchange on Mental Health Policy, providing an in-depth learning experience about processes involved in translating science to mental health policy, with a partial focus on telehealth.

Leaders from Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, England, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Scotland and Sweden were provided an opportunity to learn from experts in mental health policy from a range of backgrounds about successful techniques for ensuring that policy is based on strong evidence.

The purpose of this learning exchange was to:

  • learn about how advocates in the United States and internationally are able to use a firm evidence base to influence policy
  • discuss how these models can be transposed to local contexts to ensure that mental health policy around the world is based on solid ground
  • have presentations from each country on national policy issues, sharing evidence and challenges.

The speakers included lobbyists (who discussed evidence-based advocacy); a congressional staffer (who presented on evidence-based legislation); and a representative from the United States national governmental mental health and addiction agency, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (who addressed evidence-based implementation).

Key messages

Now is the time

Shootings in the United States have led to a public platform for mental health. However misguided this is — we know that people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims, rather than perpetrators, of violence.

We must seize the opportunity to push for improvements in our mental healthcare system.

Coordinated messaging

Data are not enough. We need stories and engaging, creative ways for presenting information. 

We need scientific, personal and economic messages.

Redefining mental health

We are in a process of redefining mental health, incorporating social determinants, basic needs and the importance of treating the whole person.

We must ensure that this broader definition is reflected in public policies, that uses a wellbeing approach.

International commonalities

Many nations are facing similar challenges in building successful evidence-based systems of mental healthcare. We're all in this together.

We were delighted to be part of this group of international leaders, and to take part in a constructive, far-reaching discussion on the importance of evidence-based policy.

We are confident that lasting relationships have been formed and valuable insights will continue to be shared among participants as we all progress mental health.

– Dr Janice Wilson, Robyn Shearer and Marion Blake