Updated: October 6, 2020 9:47:46 am
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93 per cent of the countries even as the demand for mental health is increasing, according to a new survey by World Health Organization. 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 the pandemic.
The international public health agency has previously highlighted chronic underfunding of mental health: before the pandemic, countries were spending less than 2 per cent of national health budgets on mental health, and struggling to meet their populations’ needs. The pandemic is increasing demand for mental health services, read a statement issued by WHO.
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. Covid-19 has interrupted essential mental health services around the world just when they are needed most.
The survey was conducted from June to August among 130 countries across WHO’s six regions. It evaluates how 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.
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). At least 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. At least 30 per cent reported disruptions to access for medications for mental, neurological and substance use disorders. Around three-quarters reported at least partial disruptions to school and workplace mental health services (78 per cent and 75 per cent, respectively).
While many countries (70 per cent) have adopted telemedicine or teletherapy to overcome disruptions to in-person services, there are significant disparities in the uptake of these interventions. More than 80 per cent of high-income countries reported deploying telemedicine and teletherapy to bridge gaps, as compared with less than 50 per cent of low-income countries. WHO has issued guidance to countries on how to maintain essential services, including mental health services, during the pandemic.
It recommends that countries allocate resources to mental health as an integral component of their response and recovery plans. Although 89 per cent of countries reported that mental health and psychosocial support were part of their national Covid-19 response plans, only 17 per cent have full additional funding for covering these activities.
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