Mental health in a pandemic

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EDITORIAL

The World Health Organization warned on October 5 that mental health has been overlooked during the COVID-19 pandemic, pointing to a survey conducted between June and August that revealed severe disruptions to mental health services in 93 countries.

WHO found that while 83 percent of 130 countries surveyed had included mental health in their coronavirus pandemic response plans, only 17 percent had actually set up the full funding it required.

“This is a forgotten aspect of COVID-19,” WHO mental health director Devora Kestel told a virtual media briefing, stressing the urgent need for increased funding.

Before the pandemic, countries were already spending less than 2 percent of their national health budget on mental health, and were struggling to meet demand, the WHO added. The demand has now dramatically increased due to the pandemic yet not enough has been done.

“Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones,” the agency said in a statement. It added many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety.

WHO’s survey found that 30 percent of countries reported some disruption in emergency mental health provision and medication supplies for people with disorders. Additionally, prevention services were sharply affected as travel restrictions hindered patient access to health facilities.

Estimates before the pandemic showed that nearly $1 trillion in economic productivity was lost annually from depression and anxiety alone. Studies showed that every dollar spent on evidence-based care for the aforementioned conditions returned $5.

As WHO stressed the urgent need for increased funding for mental health, those already experiencing mental health disorders and those vulnerable to it can only hope that their government’s policy makers and health services are paying attention and willing to commit the necessary resources to shore up our defenses and protections for mental health.*

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