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Common minds

Published on 08 July 2020 Go back to The ACU Review

Universities have a vital role to play in bringing mental health out of the shadows – on campus, in their communities, and beyond.

By Joanna Newman, ACU

At time of writing, the coronavirus pandemic continues to dominate our global headlines. While there can be no underestimating the gravity of COVID-19, this issue of The ACU Review casts a spotlight on another global pandemic. One that also impairs our quality of life, dents our economies, and stifles the potential of individuals and communities, yet one that remains underestimated, overlooked, and often misunderstood.

Poor mental health is a major contributor to the global burden of disease and a leading cause of disability worldwide. Depression alone affects at least 264 million people worldwide at an estimated cost of US$ 1 trillion a year in lost productivity. Our mental health is bound, inextricably, to our physical health, our social and economic wellbeing, and our ability to study, work and thrive. It underpins the socioeconomic growth of entire nations, making mental health a development issue, as well as a public health one.

Yet the rise of mental health problems is matched only by the scarcity of budgets and resources with which to treat them. This is particularly true in low and middle income countries where the majority of those experiencing mental disorders will not receive the support they need. For many, mental ill-health also carries with it a stigma that ‘visible’ conditions do not.

This issue of The ACU Review highlights not only the scale of these challenges, but the commonalities of the Commonwealth – from the psychological wounds caused by conflict and terror to the enduring and often shameful legacies of colonial rule. But there is hope, too: on every page, we see how our member universities across the Commonwealth are bringing mental health and other non-communicable diseases out of the shadows – on campus, in their communities, and beyond.

Throughout this issue, we see how university research is informing mental health policy and services, raising awareness, and challenging stigma. We see how university-led interventions are reaching communities whose needs are all too often overlooked. And echoing throughout can be heard a clarion call for greater awareness of, and commitment to, mental health within every organisation, society and government.

Above all, we are reminded that our mental health cannot be viewed in isolation from the different worlds in which we live. Mental health interventions can make an immense difference to people’s lives, but only when rooted in the distinct and diverse realities of those they seek to help.

Our next issue will explore how Commonwealth universities are decolonising the curriculum: challenging the longstanding biases and omissions that frame and limit our understanding of the world: our past and our future. To take part or find out more, write to us at

Dr Joanna Newman is Chief Executive and Secretary General of the ACU.

The ACU Review is published for information purposes only and no liability is accepted for its contents by the ACU or by any contributor. Opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the ACU.

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