International Observatory on Mental Health Systems

A mental health systems research and capacity development network

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While the mental health situation for most people in low and middle income countries is unsatisfactory, there is a renewed commitment to focus attention on the mental health of populations and on the scaling up of mental health services that have the capacity to respond to mental health service needs. There is general agreement that scaling up activities must be evidence-based and that the effectiveness of such activities must be evaluated. If these requirements are to be realised it will be essential to strengthen capacity in countries to conduct rigorous monitoring and evaluation of system development projects and to demonstrate sustained benefit to populations.

The International Observatory on Mental Health Systems (IOMHS), an initiative of the Global and Cultural Mental Health, University of Melbourne, has been established in support of the WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme and the objectives of the Movement for Global Mental Health. IOMHS is modelled on the successful European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, which has been operating for a decade.

The overarching objective of IOMHS is to build capacity to measure and to track mental health system performance in participating countries at national and sub-national (provincial and district) levels. Most important scaling up activities occur at local levels, while national level data are difficult to interpret and often hide as much as they reveal. For example, national level information on the mental health system in Indonesia or Sri Lanka will not reveal the substantial progress that has been made in developing community-based mental health services in some districts, or whether these developments are applicable and feasible in other parts of these two countries. Developing feasible methods to track progress in mental health system performance at district and provincial levels, and progress in disseminating new models of service delivery, is particularly important.

IOMHS will focus its attention particularly on low and middle-income countries that are active in implementing mental health service scaling up activities. The information that is produced by the Observatory will strengthen political commitment to scaling up of services and investment in mental health, inform the development of policies and plans, and will be used to strengthen human resources. It will also serve to protect and enhance the human rights of people with mental illness.

The work program of IOMHS will depend on the establishment of partnerships with governments, universities, international and local NGOs and other partner organisations that will collect, analyse and apply high quality information for mental health system reform and development. An outcome of such a collaborative work program will be the establishment of sustained and productive collaborations between mental health policy makers, academics, practitioners, NGOs, and civil society organisations, and improved capacity to analyse trends in health care reform. An explicit goal is to build the strengths of partner organisations and networks to provide evidence-based advice to national and sub-national policy makers, service planners and implementers.

The Observatory will commence its program of work in Asia and the Pacific building on the platform established by the International Mental Health Leadership Program, which has more than 100 alumni in 18 countries and territories in the Asia Pacific region.

A distinguished International Steering Group – with membership from South and East Asia, the Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, the United States, Australia and elsewhere - has been established to support the development of the Observatory and its programs in several world regions.

Two papers setting out the purposes and objectives of the Observatory may be downloaded from the International Journal of Mental Health Systems, at