Mental Health Needs To Be Incorporated Into COVID-19 Recovery Plans To Prevent ‘Massive’ Mental Health Crisis
Celebration of Older Adult Mental Health Awareness Day in the USA

The raging pandemic has highlighted an urgent need to incorporate mental health into COVID-19 recovery plans and to ‘substantially’ improve mental health funding – Or the world will face a ‘massive’ mental health crisis in upcoming months, reported a United Nations policy brief on Thursday

“The impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health is already extremely concerning,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros in a statement on Thursday. “Social isolation, fear of contagion, and loss of family members is compounded by the distress caused by loss of income and often employment.”

COVID-19 has increased psychological distress worldwide, report national 2020 surveys

All over the globe, mental health difficulties have worsened due to COVID-19, leaving vulnerable populations like healthcare workers, children, women and older people at particular risk. In Ethiopia, the number of people with symptoms of depression has tripled. Meanwhile in China, almost half of healthcare workers have reported depression and anxiety, and 34% have insomnia, according to a study published in JAMA from late March. 

As well as healthcare workers being disproportionately affected by COVID-19, children have faced COVID-related psychological distress, with parents reporting difficulties concentrating, as well irritability, restlessness and nervousness in children – and lockdowns have increased the risk of domestic violence and abuse.

Parents’ reports of children’s difficulties during COVID-19 confinment (Italy and Spain)

COVID-19 lockdowns have strained mental health services that were already fragile. Community services like self-help groups for alcohol and drug dependence have not met for months, and mental health facilities in hospitals have been converted to care for people with the coronavirus, leaving mental health needs unmet.

Adapting Policy: Incorporating Mental Health In Recovery Packages & Improving Funding 

It is critical that people living with mental health conditions have continued access to treatment, said a WHO statement from Thursday – and some countries have begun adapting policy, with some signs of success. 

To ensure continuity of care, teams from Egypt, Kenya, Nepal, Malaysia and New Zealand, among others, have ramped up mental health capacity through emergency telephone lines for mental health to reach people in need.  

Some countries have even considered mental health as an ‘essential’ component of the national response to COVID-19.

In Madrid, local-policy makers have deemed emergency psychiatry services as ‘essential services’, enabling mental health-care workers to continue outpatient services over the phone and through home visits. While Madrid has converted over 60% of mental health beds to provide COVID-19 care, people with severe mental health conditions have not been left behind – They have received care in private clinics.

As well as incorporating mental healthcare in ‘any COVID-19 recovery plan’, countries need to cover essential mental health needs in health care benefit packages and insurance schemes, said the UN Policy Brief.

Prior to COVID-19, only 2% of national health budgets were invested in mental health, and over three quarters of people with mental health conditions in low- and middle- income countries received no treatment for their condition.

The global economy loses more than US$ 1 trillion every year due to depression and anxiety, according to UN estimates.

Image Credits: National Center for Equitable Care for Elders, UN.