World Mental Health Day at the United Nations 2019
By: Jane Reardon
A good kind of infiltration…
Pardon the occupational humor while I take you on a brief visit to New York City circa now.
Once upon a time (or March 2019), there lived a group of fearless nurses ready to take on the world and make lasting contributions to transforming healthcare. Under the leadership of Rebecca Love, SONSIEL was born and officially launched its website in April of 2019. Dr. Holly Shaw, Representative to the United Nations, International Council of Nurses (ICN) and Nightingale Initiative for Global Health, reached out to our founders and established a productive working relationship in which SONSIEL would have an ongoing presence at the United Nations.
This relationship was made formal after a hot day in June (06) 2019, when various Founders of SONSIEL participated in an official launch event at the United Nations, the second time many of the Founders had the opportunity to meet together since the very first retreat in Canyon Ranch. They were excited to be introduced to various committee leaders and figureheads as a nursing collective ready to lend their voices to the Nations. It was a great time to catch a glimpse of valuable sessions, such as the discussion on the intersect between the faith-based community and climate change, with Karenna Gore, to the critical conversation surrounding Elder abuse and prevention tactics, an issue that Nurses have sometimes had to confront all too many times. All were eager to see Nurses be a strong presence, and the affiliation was sealed in July 2019 when SONSIEL became an Associate Member of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations (CoNGO) to the United Nations.
On October 10th, 2019, a (now official) delegation of nurses from SONSIEL infiltrated the United Nations (UN) via a side event presented by the NGO Committee on Mental Health commemorating World Mental Health Day with a focus on Suicide Prevention. In attendance were SONSIEL founding members Ann Corcoran, Antonette Montalvo, Veronica Southerland, and Amy Rose Taylor, SONSIEL active members included May-Lynn Andresen, Kimberly Delbo, Amy Edgar, and myself, Jane Reardon. We stood in the presence of greatness, where global innovators and clinicians alike shared their work, stories, and passion for spreading awareness and doing their part to prevent suicide. Dr. Holly Shaw, who represents the only nurse currently in the United Nations moderated this incredible event and allowed us to be exposed to these innovative panelists. We enjoyed a total of 10 panelists, a youth guest speaker, as well as an extraordinary performance from singer/activist Roger Street Friedman. We additionally had the opportunity to participate in a Q&A with the panelists as well as additional training on suicide prevention presented by Mama Dragons.
Allow me to highlight some of the panelists’ work/takeaways from this incredible event.
Our first speaker Barbara Stanley, Ph.D., gave us an overview of Suicide Risk Assessment and reminded us that we could all play a part in preventing suicide and not to be afraid to express concern.
Dana Alonzo, Ph.D., presented her work on Community Capacity Building for Suicide Prevention in Latin America. Her work focused on identifying the relevant determinants specific to community-associated with risk.
Jill Harkavy-Friedman, Ph.D., spoke of her work with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She highlighted some of their efforts, such as “Out of the Darkness” walks, which aim to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide. She also spoke about Project 2025 which is a collaborative effort to implement and scale these suicide prevention strategies nationwide.
Siva Mathiyazhagan, Ph.D., spoke of his work in India on Emerging Technology and Media for Youth Suicide Prevention. His work highlighted the Youth Helpline App in which real-time help is made available for youth posting for help on social media.
Adv. Liron David educated us on ENOSH, the Israeli Mental Health Association, and their work on suicide prevention. They strive to provide quality professional rehabilitation services for people with a psychiatric disability and their family members, pioneer new services in mental health care, raise social awareness in the field of mental health, and promote the rights of mental health consumers
Thirteen-year-old Charlotte Holzapel of Commit to Kind spoke of her work against anti-bullying that was inspired by her best friend that needed kindness at a time she felt alone in this world. Their organization seeks to empower kids (adults and facilitators) with ideas, activities, and tools that enable them to experience and spread kindness firsthand.
Our afternoon sessions included Stephen Figge of Medecins San Frantieres, or more commonly known as Doctors Without Borders, reminds us that the “Human Connection is the single most important protective factor for suicide for many different disorders, so connect with humans.”
Werner Obermeyer, of the World Health Organization, encouraged us to take 40 seconds and do something to contribute to suicide prevention/spreading awareness and reminds us to “speak, talk about this, it’s the only thing that helps.”
We were able to virtually speak to a representative from Friendship Bench in Zimbabwe, which is an evidence-based intervention to bridge the mental health treatment gap. Their mission is to enhance psychological well- being and improve quality of life through the use of problem-solving therapy delivered by lay health workers. Their therapy rooms are not conventional and are outdoors under trees. The therapists are Zimbabwean women who have become known as “community grandmothers.”
Alexander Au, MD, spoke of his work with Innovative Uses of Technology and reminds us that “Suicide is a complicated issue, and it’s something that affects everyone, there are things that we can do to build and find a solution — being able to contribute to research and communities and build this kind of awareness”.
Jen Blair of Idaho shared her personal story of her son and how she became involved in Mama Dragons, a support group for mothers with LGBTQ children. She reminds us to “Take what you know and contribute where you can, and that’s where we all find value because everyone can do something in contributing to this problem.”
I can imagine those reading this are eager to hear more. I believe this is only the beginning of our relationship with the UN, and we will only grow stronger as we foster these new partnerships.
Our presence at the UN was palpable (as nurse presence tends to be when we want to be present). Allow me to share some of the insights from our fellow SONSIEL members:
“My biggest takeaway(s) was/were the discussion surrounding culturally-relevant community outreach – both in the national and international arena, especially considering much of my mission and vision is in the community setting. I also appreciated the dialogue surrounding how to more consistently and effectively disseminate information and create awareness in faith-based communities, as in rural areas, on a global basis, the church is a major source of community and network. I also appreciated learning about resources that exist, as well as some of the protective factors, having learned that many suicides, specifically, could have been prevented. I hope the conversation continues and deepens to address the rise in mental health crises we are experiencing.” ~Antonette Montalvo
“Suicide is preventable! Each dynamic panelist shared knowledge and their programs today. We all have a role in sharing this knowledge and speaking about it.” ~Ann Corcoran
“Mental health is part of being human. That means all of us. I was so inspired to gather as a global community and especially as the SONSIEL a community of Nurse innovators and leaders to celebrate mental health and accelerate solutions to the global issues of trauma and suicide prevention.
The dream of a world that recognizes mental health as human health is closer than I knew and for that knowledge from the World Mental Health day, I am so grateful!” ~Amy Edgar
“My mantra has always been that what’s most important in life for every living being is the power of the human connection (not to limit it to humans, of course!). It was extremely moving to learn about programs that demonstrate how meaningful, real
connections are key components in alleviating loneliness, restoring hope, and preventing suicide. This theme weaved through every presentation and discussion, from the evidence-base on suicide prevention and the Mama Dragons who have created safe space and deep connections for U.S. and international LGBTQ families, to programs across the globe like Israel’s Meytarim program and Zimbabwe’s Friendship Bench. Most importantly, we all have the power of the human connection living inside of us, and this powerful tool is available for each of us to use in our everyday lives, any time we choose. We can pledge to engage the WHO’s 40-Seconds of an Action campaign to prevent suicide every day by taking 40-seconds to show someone who is struggling that we care. Imagine what our world could be…” ~May Lynn Andresen
“Given the current pervasive and global issue of mental illness and the fact that no community is immune, there is an urgent need to proactively engage in mental health promotion across the life span. According to the WHO (2019), someone commits suicide every 40 seconds. The NGO Mental Health Committee conclusively demonstrated how various evidence-based interventions implemented at the population, sub-population, and individual levels could promote mental health and prevent suicide. Bolstering protective factors and creating supportive social networks will be vital to realizing a healthier America and world. As a 21st-century community health nurse, healthcare transformation catalyst, patient advocate, consultant, entrepreneur, and leader, I anticipate utilizing what I’ve learned in several ways. This will include: establishing cross-sector collaborations, engaging in community capacity building, empowering and mentoring others to embrace a proactive approach to suicide prevention and mental health promotion, and seeking to decrease the stigma of mental illness where people live, learn, work, and pray. Honestly, there is power in partnerships and innovation!
Also, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is an excellent resource when seeking to mobilize communities through innovation and focus grants, and “Out of the Darkness” community walks. Community activism has the potential to decrease suicide, which is the 2nd leading cause of death among those 15-29 years old (WHO, 2019). As communities embrace this proactive paradigm shift, it will be interesting to see how the strengths of young people can be leveraged into the processes while encouraging them to become part of the change efforts through their participation in the development of committees, web plugins, and mobile applications. One thing is sure, creating a kinder, more considerate, healthier world where neighbors, colleagues, and friends are committed and empowered to help one another will be a step in the right direction!”
A Call to Action for the Members of SONSIEL
Accept the World Health Organization’s challenge and take 40 seconds to look into the work of our panelists. Connect with them. Determine how you can pay it forward to ensure we are all working together to #stopsuicide
Barbara Stanley, Ph.D.,
Columbia University, Suicide Risk Assessment
Dana Alonzo, Ph.D.,
Fordham University, Community Capacity Building for Suicide Prevention in South and Central America
Jill Harkavy Friedman, Ph.D.,
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Siva Mathiyazhagan, Ph.D. & Martina Edmonds, PA,
Trust for Youth/Child Leadership
Adv. Liron David, BSW, LLM,
ENOSH, Programmes of Israeli Mental Health Association
Commit 2 Kind
Médecins San Frontieres
World Health Organization
Friendship Bench, Zimbabwe, Representative
Alexander Au, MD,
The University of Utah, Innovative Uses of Technology
Jen Blair & Wendy Vonsosen
Mama Dragons, A Community-Focused Suicide Prevention Program for Adolescents and Young Adults
As a Society of Nurse Scientists, Innovators, Entrepreneurs, and Leaders, we understand people, and we understand the pivotal position we are in. Given the caliber of nurses within this organization and witnessing the passion they feel for global issues, I can only imagine what kind of transformation healthcare is about to receive — looking forward to what greatness lies ahead.