COVID-19 disrupting mental health services in most countries, WHO survey

Mental Health

The Covid-19 pandemic not only comes with additional mental health issues but has disrupted or stopped mental health services in 93% of the countries surveyed by WHO between June and August 2020. Before the pandemic, countries were not able to meet the populations increasing demand for mental health services as countries allocated less than 2% of their national health’s budget on mental health.

Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones. Many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety. Meanwhile, COVID-19 itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation, and stroke. People with pre-existing mental, neurological or substance use disorders are also more vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 infection  ̶  they may stand a higher risk of severe outcomes and even death. 

Good mental health is absolutely fundamental to overall health and well-being.COVID-19 has interrupted essential mental health services around the world just when they’re needed most. World leaders must move fast and decisively to invest more in life-saving mental health programmes  ̶  during the pandemic and beyond.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization

According to the Survey, Countries reported widespread disruption of many kinds of critical mental health services:

  • Over 60% reported disruptions to mental health services for vulnerable people, including children and adolescents (72%), older adults (70%), and women requiring antenatal or postnatal services (61%).
  • 67% saw disruptions to counselling and psychotherapy; 65% to critical harm reduction services; and 45% to opioid agonist maintenance treatment for opioid dependence.
  • More than a third (35%) reported disruptions to emergency interventions, including those for people experiencing prolonged seizures; severe substance use withdrawal syndromes; and delirium, often a sign of a serious underlying medical condition.
  • 30% reported disruptions to access medications for mental, neurological and substance use disorders. 
  • Around three-quarters reported at least partial disruptions to school and workplace mental health services (78% and 75% respectively).

Something to Note

Not all countries responded to the survey: Europe recorded the least ratio of WHO member states who responded to the survey followed by Africa. Out of the 47 WHO member states, 28 responded which is half the number of all African countries.

What’s Next?

On World Mental Health Day (Saturday 10 October), as part of its campaign Move for mental health: let’s invest, WHO is inviting the global community to take part in The Big Event for Mental Health, an unprecedented online advocacy event that will call for increased investment in mental health at all levels  ̶  from individuals to businesses to countries to civil society  ̶  so that the world can begin to close the gaps highlighted by today’s report.

The Big Event is free and open to the public and will be broadcast on 10 October from 16:00 to 19:00 CEST on WHO’s YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and LinkedIn channels and website.

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