COVID-19 disrupting mental health services – WHO
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93 per cent of countries worldwide while the demand for mental health is increasing, according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) survey. The survey of 130 countries provides the first global data showing the devastating impact of COVID-19 on access to mental health services and underscores the urgent need for increased funding.
The survey was published ahead of WHO’s Big Event for Mental Health – a global online advocacy event on October 10 that will bring together world leaders, celebrities, and advocates to call for increased mental health investments in the wake of COVID-19. World Mental Health Day will be observed on Saturday.
WHO has previously highlighted the chronic underfunding of mental health: prior to the pandemic, countries were spending less than two per cent of their national health budgets on mental health, and struggling to meet their populations’ needs.
And the pandemic is increasing demand for mental health services. 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,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO. “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.”
The survey was conducted from June to August 2020 among 130 countries across WHO’s six regions. It evaluates how the provision of mental, neurological and substance use services has changed due to COVID-19, the types of services that have been disrupted, and how countries are adapting to overcome these challenges.
PERCENTAGES OF MENTAL HEALTH DISRUPTIONS
Over 60 per cent reported disruptions to mental health services for vulnerable people, including children and adolescents (72 per cent), older adults (70 per cent), and women requiring antenatal or postnatal services (61 per cent); 67 per cent saw disruptions to counselling and psychotherapy; 65 per cent to critical harm reduction services; and 45 per cent to opioid agonist maintenance treatment for opioid dependence.
More than a third (35 per cent) 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.