UN Warns of Mental Health Crisis Due to COVID-19

June 30, 2020
“Good mental health is critical to the functioning of society at the best of times,” the UN stated.

The effects of COVID-19 on the mental health of global populations are causing the UN to call for immediate action.

“Good mental health is critical to the functioning of society at the best of times,” the agency said in a recent report,  Policy Brief: COVID-19 and the Need for Action on Mental Health. “It must be front and center of every country’s response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

With psychological distress due to the immediate health impacts of the virus and the consequences of physical isolation, as well as economic turmoil as millions lose their livelihoods, the agency is predicting a "long-term upsurge in the number and severity of mental health problems."

The report points the myriad sources of stress:

-Frontline healthcare workers and first responders have been exposed to numerous stressors and ensuring the mental health of healthcare workers is a critical factor in sustaining COVID-19 preparedness, response and recovery.

-In every community, there are numerous older adults and people with pre-existing health conditions who are terrified and lonely.

--Emotional difficulties among children and adolescents are exacerbated by family stress, social isolation, with some facing increased abuse, disrupted education and uncertainty about their futures, occurring at critical points in their emotional development.

--Women are bearing a large brunt of the stress in the home as well as disproportionate impacts more generally.

--And people caught in fragile humanitarian and conflict settings risk having their mental health needs overlooked entirely

While there have been programs to provide mental health services, the report says the vast majority of mental health needs remain unaddressed. One reason for the lack of response at this time is that it's been “hampered by the lack of investment in mental health promotion, prevention and care before the pandemic.”

To address this pressing issue the group recommends three specific actions:

1.  Apply a Whole-of-Society Approach to Promote, Protect and Care for Mental Health.

A whole-of-society approach for mental health in COVID-19 means:

  • including mental health and psychosocial considerations in national response plans across relevant sectors, for example, supporting learning and nurturing environments for children and young people who are confined at home;
  • responding proactively to reducing pandemic-related adversities that are known to harm mental health, for example, domestic violence and acute impoverishment; and
  • crafting all communications to be sensitive to their potential impact on people’s mental health, for example by communicating empathy for people’s distress and including advice for their emotional well-being.

 2.  Ensure Widespread Availability of Emergency Mental Health and Psychosocial Support

Achieving this objective during the COVID-19 pandemic means:

  • supporting community actions that strengthen social cohesion and reduce loneliness, for example supporting activities that help isolated older adults stay connected;
  • investing in mental health interventions that can be delivered remotely, for example, quality-assured tele-counseling for frontline health-care workers and people at home with depression and anxiety;
  • ensuring uninterrupted in-person care for severe mental health conditions by formally defining such care as essential services to be continued throughout the pandemic; and
  • protecting and promoting the human rights of people with severe mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities, for example, by monitoring whether they have equal access to care for COVID-19.

 3.  Support Recovery From COVID-19 by Building Mental Health Services for the Future

All affected communities will need quality mental health services to support society’s recovery from COVID-19, and this requires investment in the following:

  • using the current momentum of interest in mental health to catalyze mental health reforms, for example by developing and among community workers so that they can provide support; and
  • organizing community-based services that protect and promote people’s human rights, for example by involving people with lived experience in the design, implementation and monitoring of services.

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