The threat COVID-19 presents to the public is more than just a physical one. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the pandemic is taking a mental and emotional toll on the public the world over, and that a "substantial investment" is needed to avert a looming mental health crisis.
"The impact of the pandemic on people's mental health is already extremely concerning," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General says. "Social isolation, fear of contagion, and loss of family members is compounded by the distress caused by loss of income and often employment."
Findings from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic support Ghebreyesus's statement. Here are some of them:
- An April 2020 study in Ethiopia found that there has been a three-fold increase in the prevalence of depression symptoms since prior to the pandemic.
- Reports of high rates of depression (50 percent), anxiety (45 percent), and insomnia (34 percent) among healthcare workers in China have been reported.
- In Canada, 47 percent of healthcare workers have reported a need for psychological support.
- Children in Italy and Spain are reportedly having difficulty concentrating, are more irritable, and show more signs of restlessness and nervousness.
- A study in the United Kingdom found that 32 percent of young people with a history of mental health needs agree that the pandemic has made their condition worse.
- In Canada, alcohol intake among 15 to 49 year-olds has reportedly risen by 20 percent since the beginning of the pandemic.
The WHO says that psychosocial support in many countries has been impacted by the pandemic, with mental health facilities being turned into facilities for people infected with COVID-19. Social distancing guidelines also mean self-help groups are unable to hold meetings.
Not all governments are setting aside the issue of mental health during the pandemic, though. In Madrid, individuals with severe mental health conditions were moved to private clinics when mental health accommodations were shifted towards caring for COVID-19 patients. Psychiatry was identified as an essential service, and home visits were even organized for more serious cases. Egypt, Kenya, Nepal, Malaysia, and New Zealand also reportedly increased emergency telephone lines for mental health services, too.
"It is now crystal clear that mental health needs must be treated as a core element of our response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic," Ghebreyesus says. "This is a collective responsibility of governments and civil society, with the support of the whole United Nations System. A failure to take people's emotional well-being seriously will lead to long-term social and economic costs to society."
"The scaling-up and reorganization of mental health services that is now needed on a global scale is an opportunity to build a mental health system that is fit for the future," Dévora Kestel, director of the WHO's Department of Mental Health and Substance Use added.
"This means developing and funding national plans that shift care away from institutions to community services, ensuring coverage for mental health conditions in health insurance packages, and building the human resource capacity to deliver quality mental health and social care in the community."
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