- UN calls for more investment in mental health
ADDIS ABEBA – United Nations has called for more investment in mental health worldwide after a study finds a three-fold increase in depression and anxiety in Ethiopia due to COVID-19.
The pandemic is highlighting the need to urgently increase investment in services for mental health or risk a massive increase in mental health conditions in the coming months, according to a policy brief on COVID-19 and mental health issued by the United Nations today.
“The impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health is already extremely concerning,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom, Director-General of the World Health Organization.
“Social isolation, fear of contagion, and loss of family members is compounded by the distress caused by loss of income and often employment,” he said.
Depression is increasing
Reports already indicate an increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety in a number of countries, and the WHO used the outcome of a study conducted in Ethiopia last month to show the impact of the pandemic.
The research reported a 3-fold increase in the prevalence of symptoms of depression compared to estimates from Ethiopia before the epidemic, according to WHO.
Specific population groups are at a particular risk of COVID-related psychological distress, it added.
Frontline health-care workers, faced with heavy workloads, life-or-death decisions, and risk of infection, are particularly affected.
During the pandemic, in China, health-care workers have reported high rates of depression (50%), anxiety (45%), and insomnia (34%) and in Canada, 47% of health-care workers have reported a need for psychological support.
– Children at risk –
Parents in Italy and Spain have reported that their children have had difficulties concentrating, as well as irritability, restlessness and nervousness.
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.
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% of them agreed that the pandemic had made their mental health much worse.
An increase in alcohol consumption is another area of concern for mental health experts. Statistics from Canada report that 20% of 15-49 year-olds have increased their alcohol consumption during the pandemic.
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,” said Dr. Tedros.
“This is a collective responsibility of governments and civil society, with the support of the whole United Nations System. A failure to take people’s emotional well-being seriously will lead to long-term social and economic costs to society,” he added.