Address of Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC Associate General Secretary, at the World Mental Health Day event in Ecumenical Centre, Geneva on 5 October 2016


Dear H.E. Ambassador of Belgium, Geert Muylle, special rapporteur on the Right to Health, Mr. Dainius Pūras, Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse- WHO, dear representatives of our partners- Fracarita International, Fondation d’ Harcourt, excellences representing the various country missions, members of the civil society and friends,

I warmly welcome you to the Ecumenical Centre for this key event!

The World Council of Churches (WCC) brings together 348 churches in more than 110 countries throughout the world, representing more than 500 million Christians from a wide spectrum of traditions.

The faith communities and institutions stay with and accompany the communities through thick and thin. They have done so through the centuries. In today’s context, mental and behavioral disorders are common, affecting more than 25% of all people sometime during their lives. It is also all too common that in most parts of the world, trained mental health professionals and psychiatric services are woefully inadequate to meet the growing need. We cannot underestimate the role faith communities can play.

The role of faith communities is further underlined in the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day, observed on 10 October, which focuses on “psychological first aid”. The work of churches and faith communities is vital today- be it to support communities facing natural disasters, rebuilding after conflicts, and preventing and coping with violence.

The WCC and its ecumenical partners have - historically and currently - committed to serve the mental wellbeing of the people and communities regardless of their religion. In addition to the community-level accompaniment of the people in need, our members and our healthcare networks provide a substantial proportion of healthcare in the neediest parts of the world.

Allow me to give you some additional specific examples:-

Mental health issues have been addressed directly by WCC- with publications, information sharing and messaging, and also by supporting the mental health work of the NGO Forum for Health.

Health and Healing work of WCC has also addressed "Healing of memories and reconciling communities,” assisting churches and faith communities to become safe spaces where people can seek and grant forgiveness, thus promoting a culture of healing and reconciliation. This work has been carried out in Rwanda, South Africa, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Romania. We have also supported the work and publications linked with the ‘Institute of Health of Memories’.

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) which was created in 2002, has brought more than 1,400 international ecumenical accompaniers to live in the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem monitor human rights and to accompany people living under occupation.

The Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (EHAIA) programme, created in 2002, has regional offices and staff who work with and accompany people living with HIV and those belonging to key populations, and in advocating against stigma and discrimination. They also train religious leaders and theologians on key issues of accompanying communities in the context of HIV.

The Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN), initiated in 1998, supports the work of individuals, churches and church organizations concerned with issues affecting persons with disabilities globally.

Advocacy work to bring about peace and overcoming conflict, to overcome gender-based violence, work on migration and statelessness, and indigenous peoples, all motivate our communities and congregations to take specific steps to accompany vulnerable communities.

The emergency response arm of the ecumenical movement- the ACT Alliance has developed guiding principles to assist ACT staff, consultants and volunteers in providing community-based psychosocial support work in countries around the world. Community-based psychosocial support adds a mental and social dimension to traditional humanitarian aid and has assumed considerable significance as a focus for relief efforts. When the affected people’s psychosocial wellbeing has been addressed, they are more likely to benefit from the other components of recovery efforts.

The spiritual, theological and convening work on the “mission from the margins” is aimed to sensitise communities on the experiences and perspectives form the margins of society and champion their cause through the lens of our faith and values.

It is our commitment therefore to:-

  • Promote awareness of issues related to mental health and to advocate for the reduction of stigma in our constituencies in the faith-based context;

  • Work to strengthen the capacity of our networks to work for mental well-being and in the provision of psychosocial support;

  • Enhance efforts to support the mental well-being of those who serve in our institutions and networks.

I wish you all a successful and fruitful conversation over the next two hours, to guide, to look to the future, in our collaborative journey with all of you, in addressing issues related to mental health.


Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri

Associate General Secretary

Public Witness and Diakonia