- WHO warns that specific population groups are at particular risk of Covid-19-related psychological distress.
- Countries risk a massive increase in mental health conditions in the coming months.
The World Health Organization has called on countries to contribute substantial investment to avert a mental health crisis after the Covid-19 pandemic.
A policy brief on the Covid-19 and mental health issued by the WHO on Thursday warned that specific population groups are at particular risk of Covid-19-related psychological distress.
The report said that front line health-care workers, faced with heavy workloads, life-or-death decisions, and risk of infection, will heavily be affected.
“Children and adolescents are also at risk since they will have difficulties concentrating, as well as irritability, restlessness and nervousness,” the report published on the WHO website said.
“Stay-at-home measures have come with a heightened risk of children witnessing or suffering violence and abuse. Children with disabilities, children in crowded settings and those who live and work on the streets are particularly vulnerable."
The global health body called for collective responsibility of governments and civil society, with the support of the whole UN System warning that a failure to take people’s emotional well-being seriously will lead to long-term social and economic costs to society.
WHO called on countries to urgently increase investment in services for mental health or risk a massive increase in mental health conditions in the coming months.
“The impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health is already extremely concerning,” WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said.
“Social isolation, fear of contagion, and loss of family members is compounded by the distress caused by loss of income and often employment.”
The report said that there was already an increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety in a number of countries.
“A study in Ethiopia, in April 2020, reported a three-fold increase in the prevalence of symptoms of depression compared to estimates from Ethiopia before the epidemic,” the report added.
Other groups that are at particular risk are women, particularly those who are juggling home-schooling, working from home and household tasks, older persons and people with pre-existing mental health conditions.
“A study carried out with young people with a history of mental health needs living in the UK reports that 32 per cent of them agreed that the pandemic had made their mental health much worse,” the report said.
The report said an increase in alcohol consumption is another area of concern for mental health experts.
WHO said the increase in people in need of mental health or psychosocial support has been compounded by the interruption to physical and mental health services in many countries.
In addition to the conversion of mental health facilities into care facilities for people with Covid-19, care systems have been affected by mental health staff being infected with the virus and the closing of face-to-face services.
Community services, such as self-help groups for alcohol and drug dependence, have, in many countries, been unable to meet for several months.
“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 said.