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COVID-19 Pandemic and mental health

In the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25%, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Concerns about the potential increase in mental health conditions had already prompted 90% of countries surveyed to include mental health and psychosocial support in their Covid-19 response plans, but major gaps and concerns remain.

One major explanation for the increase is the unprecedented stress caused by social isolation resulting from the pandemic. Linked to this were constraints on people’s ability to work, seek support from loved ones and engage in their communities.

Loneliness, fear of infection, suffering and death for oneself and for loved ones, grief after bereavement and financial worries have also all been cited as stress factors leading to anxiety and depression. Among health workers, exhaustion has been a major trigger for suicidal thoughts.

The latest Global Burden of Disease study shows that the pandemic has affected the mental health of young people and that they are disproportionally at risk of suicidal and self-harming behaviour. It also indicates that women have been more severely impacted than men and that people with pre-existing physical health conditions, such as asthma, cancer and heart disease, were more likely to develop symptoms of mental disorders.

Data suggests that people with pre-existing mental disorders do not appear to be disproportionately vulnerable to Covid-19 infection. Yet, when these people do become infected, they are more likely to suffer hospitalisation, severe illness and death compared with people without mental disorders. People with more severe mental disorders, such as psychoses, and young people with mental disorders, are particularly at risk.

This increase in the prevalence of mental health problems has coincided with severe disruptions to mental health services, leaving huge gaps in providing care for those who need it most.

For much of the pandemic, services for mental, neurological and substance-use conditions were the most disrupted among all essential health services. Many countries also reported major disruptions in life-saving services for mental health, including for suicide prevention.

By the end of 2021, the situation had somewhat improved, but today too many people remain unable to get the care and support they need for both pre-existing and newly-developed mental health conditions.

Unable to access face-to-face healthcare, many people have sought support online, signalling an urgent need to make reliable and effective digital tools available and easily accessible. However, developing and deploying digital interventions remains a major challenge in resource-limited countries and settings.

WHO’s most recent survey on the continuity of essential health services indicated that 90% of countries are working to provide mental health and psychosocial support to Covid-19 patients and responders alike. Moreover, at last year’s World Health Assembly, countries emphasised the need to develop and strengthen mental health and psychosocial support services as part of strengthening preparedness, response and resilience to Covid-19 and future public health emergencies.

Ask for help. Let the professionals help you. Living in suffering and exhaustion is not living.

Article submitted by the HPA Group