Kofi Annan has added his voice to the growing call for action on tackling mental illness globally. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are currently being drafted, but mental health is notably absent. This call for action comes at a pivotal moment for one of the biggest crises of our time.

At a recent Economist conference in London, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that tackling depression must become a global priority. He pointed to the 400 million affected by depression globally (nearly seven percent of the world’s population), and evidence from the World Health Organization (WHO) that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is projected to be the leading cause of the disease burden globally by 2020.

This call to action by Annan comes at a time when we in the global mental health community are campaigning for mental health to be included in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals via the #FundaMentalSDG campaign. The Sustainable Development Goals are social, economic and environmental goals set by the United Nations as a focus for international development. Inclusion would mean that countries and development agencies throughout the world will pledge to improve the lives of those suffering from mental illness. But competition for inclusion is incredibly tough and mental illness is not currently on the shortlist.

A recent report by the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health highlights the scale and complexity of the global mental health problem, and how it is interwoven with other development issues.

Currently 75 percent of those suffering from mental illness live in the developing world and only 10 to 20 percent of these people receive any form of treatment. Many of them suffer from physical as well as mental illness and are, unsurprisingly, at a high risk of suicide.

In addition, many affected people will be subjected to human rights abuses and denied their basic rights, as the lack of local understanding and treatment for mental conditions leaves communities fearful and unable to cope.

Neglecting mental health has implications at a national level too. The failure of the global community and national governments to comprehend the devastating link between mental health and development leaves countries with populations unable to lead independent and economically active lives.

These issues are huge and yet have traditionally received scant attention from the global community, especially global funders and policymakers. Momentum is building, but we have to keep it going. There are four ways we can do this:

Implement holistic solutions

As mental health is closely linked to development, funding research and policy development is not enough. There needs to be funding for practical action and implementation of holistic solutions on the ground which go beyond just medical treatment but include socio-economic aspects as well.

Since 2000, BasicNeeds has been implementing a cost effective model in 12 countries in Africa and Asia known as the Model for Mental Health and Development. The model provides community based mental health treatment as well as opportunities to earn and income and be part of self-help groups.

Our experience in extremely resource-poor areas has shown us that self-help is critically important as it gives people control over their own lives and helps them integrate better into their communities.

Obviously we cannot tackle this problem alone. Our experience has shown us the importance of working with a range of partners, from local NGOs to district hospitals to national governments, in order to provide better services and opportunities for affected people and their families. However, in order to have a far greater reach we require greater support from funders and policy makers.

Integrate with physical health

It is also important that mental health is integrated into universal health coverage rather than dealing with it in isolation. People affected by serious physical illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, as well as the recent Ebola outbreak, are in need of mental health support in order to effectively manage their illnesses. It is thus important to have an integrated systems approach.

Have a united front

We need an alliance of governments, NGOs, academic institutions, policymakers and funders to work together towards a global vision of making mental health a priority. Thanks to the WHO and UN member states, the Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020 that was unanimously adopted last year recognizes mental health as a global health priority. We now need to act on this.

Include mental health in the post-2015 development agenda

The post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals are in the final stage of drafting, and mental health remains notably absent. Now is the time to advocate for the inclusion of a specific mental health target within this new global development agenda. Please join the #FundaMentalSDG initiative today, and help us make a final push forward.