Thanks in part to the advocacy efforts of the American Counseling Association, mental health services are among the major elements included in a resolution that will inform and influence the United Nations’ strategic plan for 2015-2030.

ACA has been designated an official U.N. nongovernmental organization (NGO) for nearly a decade. In August, ACA joined 4,000 other NGOs and nonprofits from around the globe for the UN’s annual NGO conference in New York City to create and pass an “action agenda,” a 14-page resolution that will help to guide future U.N. efforts.

The conference resolution lists 16 goals for governments worldwide — from sustainable development practices to providing clean water — the fourth of which is a call to “ensure the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and well-being.”

ACA joined 4,000 nongovernmental organizations at U.N. headquarters in New York City Aug. 27, 28 and 29 for the U.N.’s annual NGO conference. This photo, taken by ACA Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan, captures the opening session.

According to ACA Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan, who attended the conference with ACA CEO Richard Yep, early drafts of the document didn’t contain any mention of mental health. This omission caught Yep’s attention, so he submitted language highlighting the importance of mental health and asked that it be included in the resolution. ACA’s suggested language was accepted and included in the final document, which was approved by the conference body Aug. 29.

Yep says it was a “humbling yet very rewarding” experience to work alongside other NGOs with “such important goals in society,” including achieving peace, improving health outcomes, addressing climate change and fighting hunger, homelessness and poverty, among many others.

“While there were ample opportunities [at the conference] to network with other NGO groups and to learn about issues being addressed by these colleagues, the work of creating a declaration was of primary importance,” Yep says. “In some ways, this could be compared to creating a platform that stated those issues that world leaders need to address. The fact that ACA was able to advocate for, and then have included, wording about the importance of addressing mental health concerns is why I believe that our efforts at the conference were worthwhile. … ACA felt strongly that the perspectives of mental health services, delivered in culturally appropriate ways, was also a key element that needed to be addressed by world leaders. Our belief is that in working within the NGO process, we can help bring even greater voice to this issue.”

“The document affirms that mental health is essential for all people of all ages,” says Kaplan. “It further asserts that mental health is interlinked with several goals of the declaration, including quality education, poverty eradication, achieving gender equity and the empowerment of women and girls, promoting decent work for all, disaster recovery and promoting peaceful and inclusive societies.”

Yep and Kaplan gave input toward the conference resolution during a series of town hall-style meetings. This is the second time that ACA representatives have attended the U.N.’s annual NGO conference, Kaplan says, adding that ACA’s designation as a U.N. NGO puts ACA “in the middle of internationalism.”

“The more involved we are [internationally], the more we learn and the better ACA is,” he says. “It’s a global society, and our clients are global.”

Speaking at the closing session of the conference, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson thanked the participating NGOs for their collaboration and creation of a “global action plan.”

“In today’s global landscape, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something,” Eliasson said. “The work of civil society – often with limited resources and much personal and political risk – has been central to the promotion of peace, development and human rights. You are out there in the field, building bridges of solidarity. You advocate and engage. You debate and defend. You push and then push some more. And the world is better for it.”




Mental health excerpts from the declaration approved at the United Nations’ 65th annual NGO conference


“We affirm that physical and mental health and psychosocial well-being are essential for all peoples at all ages in order to achieve the three dimensions of sustainable development;

“We further assert mental health and psychosocial well-being is cross-cutting, and interlinked across several goals, e.g., ensure[ing] quality education; ending poverty; achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls; promoting economic growth and decent work for all; making cities and human settlements safe; taking urgent action to combat climate change and promote disaster recovery and risk reduction; global partnerships and promoting peaceful and inclusive societies;

“We call on governments to ensure that all people of all ages have access to affordable, essential and quality physical and mental health care services, without discrimination and without suffering financial hardship”





For more information


The full conference declaration is available online:


U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks at the conference’s closing session:


Conference website:




Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at


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