No5 barrister publishes book to promote global importance of mental health

An advocate from a leading barristers’ chambers has published a new book which puts the spotlight on global mental health, highlighting the lack of its support worldwide and the massive need for investment.

Dr Laura Davidson of No5 Barristers’ Chambers compiled and edited The Routledge Handbook of International Development, Mental Health and Wellbeing.

The London barrister, who is a recognised authority on human rights and mental disability law, drew together more than 30 leading academics and other experts to address the new UN 2030 agenda in the context of mental health and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The book was formally launched at a seminar at University College London.  A number of contributing authors discussed their chapters, followed by an expert question and answer session.

Laura said, “As a specialist in this area of the law, I find it fascinating. However, I am particularly passionate about it because mental health has always been such a low priority worldwide, and stigma towards it endures. I co-founded the UK’s first mental health research charity (Mental Health Research UK) in 2008 because no such charity existed – a fact I found astonishing.

“In deciding to draw the authors of this book together, I was keen to explore why a commitment to investing in mental health did not appear to be the global priority it ought to be.  Nowhere in the world does mental health enjoy parity with physical health, and most governments fail to ring-fence funding for mental health within their health budgets. This is such a false economy,” she added.

 “I hope this book will make people realise that a joined-up, multi-disciplinary and multifaceted approach is essential for long-term, sustained improvement in mental health and wellbeing.  Not only that, but investing in mental health, including in prevention and education, will provide every country with longer-term economic benefits and help them meet the SDGs.”

With UN Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG3) on health and wellbeing the focus of the book, post-conflict countries such as Colombia and Haiti come under the spotlight, with mental health in many other countries discussed, including India, Australia, Bhutan, Nigeria and Israel.

Laura points out, “The book provides differing perspectives with sections on the legal, cultural, policy and economic aspects of mental health.  It examines a variety of demographics, including children and adolescents, and the elderly.  Gender differences, including the often-neglected mental health of men, are also highlighted and examined.

“A pertinent feature is that the book contains numerous chapters written by people with lived experience of mental ill-health.  There has been considerable rhetoric about mental health in the last few years, yet few platforms provide a voice for those most affected.  This book is one of them.”

Laura has a Masters in international law and a Ph.D in mental health law and human rights, both from the University of Cambridge. She has combined her busy court practice with an academic career, publishing prolifically. A visiting academic Fellow at the University of Cape Town for several years, her research has included empirical qualitative fieldwork on psychosocial disability and trauma in Uganda. She is also an international development Consultant, advising on human rights and policy. In 2013, she drafted Rwanda’s first mental health legislation, and recently she advised the UN on a new disability law in Zimbabwe.

This book is essential reading not only for mental health practitioners and those interested in wellbeing but also for anyone working in international development.  Laura has written two chapters on the law and legal redress for human rights violations against those with mental health issues.  She has also co-written two chapters with Dr. Shekhar Saxena, former Director of the World Health Organization’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse department, and renowned public health law academic Professor Lawrence O. Gostin from Georgetown University, USA.

The book features a Foreword by Jeffrey D. Sachs, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on the SDGs.  Revered Indian psychiatrist Professor Vikram Patel – who featured in the Times’ 2015 Top 100 most influential people in the world – has written an Afterword. The book is available from: https://www.routledge.com/The-Routledge-Handbook-of-International-Development-Mental-Health-and/Davidson/p/book/9780367027735.

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