During the IIMHL Leadership Exchange, the first meeting of the IIMHL Council of Public Mental Health Leadership took place, attended by representatives from eleven countries. Two people from each IIMHL country were invited. Dr Barbara Disley and Dr Monique Faleafa represented New Zealand.

The meeting was co-chaired by Gregor Henderson (CEO of Public Health England) and Stephanie Priest (Public Health Agency of Canada).

Initial discussion from the group

  • Increasing demands for mental health services is influencing the need to take more systematic, upstream, social determinants of health approach.
  • Seeing widening gaps in health inequalities across countries; need to look at underlying issues, such as racism, colonialization, poverty.
  • Need to work across jurisdictions/sectors; call on other non-mental health professionals to understand and advocate for prevention and for those populations most at risk for poor mental health
  • Importance to influence positive societal change across different levels (e.g. macro vs program level; allocation of resources). Need to reflect our values in policies and programs.
  • Broader human rights perspective in mental health and using this to influence change.


Stephanie Priest, Executive Director, Mental Health and Wellbeing Division, Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)

Highlights from the presentation:


Johanna Ahnquist, Public Health Sweden

Highlights from the presentation:

  • Mental health among youth in Sweden is current focus.
  • Five areas of focus in Mental Health Strategy: prevention; access to early care; vulnerable populations, participation and rights
  • Looking at social determinants of mental health 
  • Challenges include: lack of coordination; focus on mental illness; lack of data, especially on younger children and local/regional data; funding levels for upstream work is small; need to influence other systems impacting mental health (e.g. school policies causing student stress).

Key priorities / common themes

The following points were raised:

  • Effective public mental health messaging needed to influence “big players” and the public. This messaging would be grounded in research/evidence and tells a compelling human story. Uses common language that everyone can relate to e.g. stress vs. distress.
  • Mental health literacy: Engage media and the public in understanding that mental health is broader than mental illness and influenced by social determinants of health. Shift away from mental health services and specific mental illnesses. Influence others to advocate for positive mental health. Purposeful and strategic communication (see Frameworks Institute documents).
  • Collective responsibility: Everyone plays a role in mental health promotion and everyone has mental health.
  • Data: importance of considering what is the “right” data/evidence to influence which audiences; using data that is accessible/ useable for all; consider developing common outcome indicators on wellbeing, aligned with sustainable development goals.
  • Build economic case for mental wellbeing using language that helps non-mental health professionals understand.
  • Take a rights-based perspective which doesn’t leave people behind and takes a holistic approach. E.g. Finland’s “constitutional equity”; New Zealand employers have legal responsibility to provide healthy workplaces.
  • Importance of co-production (experts with lived experience are engaged early and throughout the process).
  • Taking a whole of government policy approach that is underpinned by a mental health promotion/prevention approach. Models were discussed such as the UK Green paper where all new Government policy must identify the health promotion/prevention impacts 

Several other reports from other countries were shared.

Next steps 

Stephanie reported back to the IIMHL Sponsoring Countries Leaders Group on the discussion and this group will be formalised shortly.

Monique and Barbara continue to be involved. This will be an important International forum going forward as a number of countries take a much stronger prevention and promotion approach to mental distress.