How to talk to people about mental health – and support one another


(Jake Melara, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Fatima Azzahra El Azzouzi, Global Shaper, Casablanca Hub,

  • It’s time to act on, not just talk about, mental health.
  • Global Shapers trains volunteer youth to help each other out with mental health issues.
  • Empathy is the best therapy. It’s teachable and learnable.

It’s 2020 and thank goodness there’s no longer any need to argue about the importance of mental health – well, most of the time. 2019 was a tipping point in recognising how paramount mental health is. At the annual meeting in Davos in January 2019, the likes of Prince William, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the late CEO of Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson, and the CEO of HSBC John Flint told the world why mental health matters.

Although advocacy for mental health absolutely needs to continue, we are entering a new era where it’s time to act and scale actions, not just talk.

Why you should take action on mental health

In 2019, you likely sensed the rising trend in mental health, whether through celebrities, in your organisation’s culture, or while watching a movie. Perhaps your reaction was: “Oh, mental health is actually important!” followed by “Mental health is a scary monster to tackle and I didn’t study psychology so I can do nothing.” (This is code for “Let me stay in my comfort zone and act as if this only happens to other people.”) Similarly, it took me months of questioning before I had the courage to start executing the mental health training initiative I’m introducing now.

Well, mental health is not just about mental illness, it’s about how you and I feel, and learning what to do with difficult emotions. Whoever you are, this is a skill you can learn and help teach in your organisation. You need to act on this because your action – no matter how small – can have a return on investment that goes beyond you and your community.


Stakeholder capitalism: Youth aren’t taking ‘No’ for an answer

While pressing global issues like climate change are getting both attention and capital, investing in mental health has been arguably low, with the exception of the £200 million ($US260 million) five-year investment by The Wellcome Trust. Most stakeholders are not taking sufficient action, but civil society is taking the lead, with youth at the forefront.

Young people are increasingly owning their role as a capital stakeholder in the era of stakeholder capitalism, and implementing solutions that concretely improve the state of the world. The same way that Greta Thunberg and Bye Bye Plastic Bags are creating climate change solutions, the Global Shapers are not allowing lack of investment to delay implementing mental health solutions globally.

Global Shapers are revolutionising mental health worldwide

The Global Shapers Mental Health Training initiative offers free mental health peer support delivered locally by Shapers with no specialised psychology background to youth in 400+ cities who cannot afford therapy.

The rationale is:

  • youth are an audience we already interact with in our projects, and youth are more likely to be open to talking about their mental health with peers.
  • we are a global community, which allows us to bypass linguistic barriers and cultural subtleties by delivering the same global training to Shapers from 150+ countries who then apply it in a locally-adapted manner in their community.

Two methods targeted at non-specialists are used to train Shapers:

  • PeaceLove is an expressive artistic method that uses creativity to inspire, heal, and communicate. It has proved its effectiveness in the US, Canada and Jamaica.
mental health
Mental health momentum will build at Davos
Image: Jeffrey Sparr, PeaceLove Co-Founder

Next steps for the Mental Health Training initiative

1. Inclusive by design: Intentionality about the audience we serve is critical. This includes underrepresented communities such as people with disabilities, LGBTQI, refugees, prisoners, the homeless and others. Society is a net woven from all these communities, and ignoring marginalised individuals is a dangerous short-termist practice that will have social and economic consequences.

2. Scalability & ‘Train the Trainer’: After a first phase of Shapers delivering free sessions, we aim to set up a ‘Train the Trainer’ model where Shapers deliver the same training to other volunteers in their respective hubs. In this scalable model, each trained Shaper trains 10 volunteers per month, each of whom offers two one-hour sessions per week. This will lead to up to 50,000 trained volunteers and more than 5 million sessions per year!

3. In-person vs. Online: Training currently takes place online through video conferencing due to the lack of financial means. It is also much more convenient to convene Shapers online from multiple countries. That said, training a group of people in the same room is more powerful and allows for group exercises that have deeper impact. Future investments would make such in-person training sessions possible.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

One in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030.

Mental ill-health is the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people aged 10–24 years, contributing up to 45% of the overall burden of disease in this age-group. Yet globally, young people have the worst access to youth mental health care within the lifespan and across all the stages of illness (particularly during the early stages).

In response, the Forum has launched a global dialogue series to discuss the ideas, tools and architecture in which public and private stakeholders can build an ecosystem for health promotion and disease management on mental health.

One of the current key priorities is to support global efforts toward mental health outcomes – promoting key recommendations toward achieving the global targets on mental health, such as the WHO Knowledge-Action-Portal and the Countdown Global Mental Health

Read more about the work of our Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, and contact us to get involved.

A glimpse of other youth-led mental health initiatives

“Global framework for youth mental health” is a partnership between Orygen and the World Economic Forum where youth are co-creating eight principles for youth mental health through face-to-face consultations in numerous countries.

In Youth Advisory Councils in Australia, Canada, and elsewhere, adolescents are decision-makers in the mental health organisations that serve them, in line with ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’

Youth have been the drivers of the nationally-led, globally-united campaign on mental health, ‘Speak Your Mind’ in 2019, calling for investments and policy change.

Envisioning a world of empathy

Ultimately, the vision is to nurture a global culture that’s rooted in empathy and where everyone is “trained” to be a “therapist” – an empathetic listener who provides a safe space to the other to self-heal wherever possible. It’s a teachable and learnable skill you can introduce today to your community or organisation.

Let’s not let our fear keep us paralysed and disconnected. We have the innate collective intelligence to help ourselves and each other.


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