COVID-19 "increasing psychological suffering"

UN calls for mental health services to be expanded
  • Deborah Condon

COVID-19 is increasing psychological suffering around the world and mental health services "must be expanded and fully funded" to deal with this, the secretary general of the United Nations (UN) has insisted.

According to António Guterres, COVID-19 has not only affected our physical health, but has also had a major impact on our mental health as a result of the loss of loved ones, the loss of jobs, the isolation that has come about due to restrictions on movement, and fears for the future.

"Mental health is at the core of our humanity. It enables us to lead rich and fulfilling lives and to participate in our communities. But the COVID-19 virus is not only attacking our physical health, it is also increasing psychological suffering.

"After decades of neglect and underinvestment in mental health services, the COVID-19 pandemic is now hitting families and communities with additional mental stress. Those most at risk are frontline healthcare workers, older people, adolescents and young people, those with pre-existing mental health conditions and those caught up in conflict and crisis. We must help them and stand by them," Mr Guterres said.

He called on governments, civil society, health authorities and others to "come together urgently to address the mental health dimension of this pandemic", emphasising that even when the pandemic ends, grief, anxiety and depression will remain.

To help with this, the UN has launched a policy brief on COVID-19 and mental health. It recommends three specific actions that should be taken in order to minimise the mental health consequences of the pandemic:

-Apply a whole-of-society approach to promote, protect and care for mental health. This includes responding proactively to reducing pandemic-related adversities that are known to harm mental health, such as domestic abuse
-Ensure widespread availability of emergency mental health and psychosocial support by, for example, investing in mental health interventions that can be delivered remotely, such as tele-counselling for frontline workers
-Support recovery from COVID-19 by building mental health services for the future. This would include shifting away from institutions towards more community-based services.

"Rapid implementation of these recommended actions will be essential to ensure people and societies are better protected from the mental health impact of COVID-19," the UN said.

The UN policy brief, COVID-19 and the Need for Action on Mental Health, can be viewed here.


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