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On May 16, 1996, members of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations (CONGO) in Consultative Status with ECOSOC, voted to establish a new Committee on Mental Health at the United Nations. Elections held in June established a nine-member interim bureau whose role was to develop the structure and mission of the Committee, establish bylaws and form a nominating committee for the future election of permanent officers.

The creation of a Committee on Mental Health is unprecedented at the United Nations. This will enable a strong collaboration between NGOs in bringing understanding and appreciation of mental health issues to the global agenda at the UN. The primary work of the Committee will be the promotion of psychological well-being, the improvement of mental health care services, and advocacy and education in the prevention of mental illness. The Committee will work with other CONGO committees, the UN and its specialized agencies to ensure the inclusion of mental health issues within a broader context of concerns, such as vulnerable populations, human rights, poverty, violence, the environment and substance abuse.

The members of the interim bureau and the organizations they represent are Joyce Braak, Institute for Women's Health Research; Eleanor Brown, International Federation of Women Lawyers; Ellen Frey-Wouters, ISTSS; Claire Fulcher, International Federation of Business and Professional Women; Helen Hamlin, International Federation on Ageing; Trudy Mason, American Jewish Congress; Blanche Saia, International Council of Psychologists; Nancy Wallace, convener, World Federation of Mental Health; and Celeste Wallin, secretary, World Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation.

During the summer, the interim bureau met frequently to draft bylaws for the Committee. This task was finished in the fall, and the bylaws were then presented to CONGO for approval. In January, elections were held to establish a permanent executive board. ISTSS UN Representative Ellen Frey-Wouters was elected as a member of the board. Work will begin on developing a program agenda for 1997 in February.

In addition, an Ad Hoc Program Planning Committee was formed to coordinate a Department of Public Information (DPI) and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) briefing at the UN in observance of World Mental Health Day, which was held on Oct. 16, 1996. The Committee cosponsored the briefing with the UN DPI, the World Federation for Mental Health and the World Health Organization. The topic of the briefing was "Women and Mental Health" and featured speakers from both the NGO community and the UN.