Hope for Justice marked World Mental Health Day by hosting the third national research conference on mental health with the theme “Strengthening Ethiopia’s capabilities to meet the human rights need in mental health through an evidence-based approach” on 10th October 2023 at Sheraton Addis Hotel. The purpose of this conference was to bring people together and unite communities to fight against stigma and discrimination towards mental illness, and to make policymakers, community leaders, and politicians aware of mental health issues in the community.
Ethiopia’s Country Director for Hope for Justice, Dereje Zeleke (pictured below), said in his opening remarks: “Mental health problems are major public health problems in Ethiopia that have negative psychological, physical, social, economic, and spiritual consequences. Since mental healthcare is not well integrated into the general health system and primary health care, the health system has not sufficiently responded to the burden of mental health problems. Previous research claimed that more than 85% of people with severe mental disorders receive no treatment and there is no adequate evidence-based intervention trials. Mental health services have been surrounded by many challenges such as lower priority, underfunding, lack of research, lack of reporting, negative community attitudes towards mental illness, skills gap in professionals, and a lack of multi-sector collaboration.”
Her Excellency Zebidar Bogale from the Ministry of Women and Social Affairs said: “Mental disorders frequently lead individuals and families to poverty, homelessness and inappropriate incarceration. Individuals with mental health problems and their families are subject to stigma, discrimination, and victimization, and are vulnerable to violations of their rights as they encounter restrictions to participate in the life of the society. This is because the right to mental health is not well-respected as a human right. Awareness should be raised.”
The first keynote speaker, Professor Dr Yemataw Wondie from the University of Gondar, focused on “Mental health and human rights from human rights perspectives”, with epidemiological facts, current practices, challenges, and future directions. The second keynote speaker, Dr Kibrom Hailu, Medical Director of Amanueal Specialized Mental Health Hospital, spoke about treatment gaps in the mental health system. He explained the rights of persons with mental illness under mental healthcare. He raised gaps in collaboration, partnership, coordination, and leadership of mental health.
This conference aims to disseminate evidence-based knowledge and to share experiences among researchers and practitioners to address the national mental health response gap and to raise awareness and drive actions that promote and protect everyone’s mental health as a fundamental human right.
Regarding the paper selection and review process, a total of 48 original research abstracts, eight grant proposals and seven systematic reviews were submitted as a response to our call for papers. We received responses from 29 universities and two papers from NGOs, out of which eight abstracts were shortlisted after a rigorous review based on the selection criteria and professionally reviewed by the conference organizing committee. Finally, the best four research papers that fit with the central theme of the conference were selected for presentation. All research conference proceedings and abstracts are disseminated to governmental and non-governmental organisations. We agreed to prepare an action plan that can be used as input for advocacy, and to work together with partners to influence and strengthen the government system on mental health.