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Vital Stories

Brazilian Government Engages with Vital Strategies’ Innovative Approach to Addressing Mental Health

In recent decades, there has been a notable rise in the global burden of mental disorders—a situation that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet even though mental health conditions represent a significant public health challenge, they are often underserved by public health policies. A new pilot by Vital Strategies is addressing this gap.

Vital Strategies has developed a project in Brazil that consists of a georeferenced Mental Health Dashboard that pinpoints where the promotion of mental health is most needed. After a pilot project in the city of Fortaleza, the project is being expanded nationally and has received support among senior political leaders.

Vital Strategies’ Country Director in Brazil, Pedro de Paula, and Luciana Sardinha, Senior Noncommunicable Diseases Manager, met with Geraldo Alckmin, Vice President of Brazil, to present Vital’s work in mental health. They discussed how the innovative use of data is informing the creation of intersectoral policies to promote mental health—especially among children and adolescents.

“The willingness of the vice president to hear about the project and mobilize his team to dialogue with the Ministry of Health about the solution proposed by Vital Strategies reinforces the relevance of the innovative approach we are bringing to the area of mental health,” said Vital’s Pedro de Paula, reflecting on the government’s political will to address the country’s mental health challenges.

Vital Strategies’ Country Director in Brazil, Pedro de Paula (right), and Luciana Sardinha, Senior Noncommunicable Diseases Manager (second from right), meeting with Geraldo Alckmin, Vice President of Brazil (middle)

About the Mental Health Dashboard Pilot in Fortaleza

Using a map and geolocation resources, the Mental Health Dashboard produces a Mental Health Index that brings together dozens of indicators related to mental health. Given that the focus of the project is children and adolescents, several of the indicators are targeted to this population, including those about education and childhood. The index serves as a tool to strengthen epidemiological surveillance in the field, thus supporting the formulation, implementation, and monitoring of data-driven and evidence-based public policies.

Each indicator reflects the intersectionality that the issue demands, incorporating the social determinants that influence mental health. The aim is to support decision-making on strategies and actions required to address the specific needs in each area to promote sound mental health.

This systematization of data was based on a well-documented methodology, translating the functional model of mental health into eight domains: sociodemographic; positive mental health and individual subjective experience; social relationships; mortality; access, use and demand for health services; stressful events; disability; and morbidity in mental health.

The Mental Health Index aims to show where the environment is more or less favorable for promoting good mental health for the population. The index has a score from 0 to 100; the closer the score is to 100, the more favorable the environment is for the local population’s mental health.

Using this tool, it is possible to see the scores for each of the city’s neighborhoods, broken down according to each of the eight domains. This allows city officials to identify where interventions and resources need to be deployed.

Work is already underway to expand the Mental Health Index nationally in partnership with Conass—the Consortium of State Departments of Health. The methodology used to build the index and the stages of building the dashboard in the city of Fortaleza are available in a book published by Vital Strategies Brazil. Read more here.