Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the world was already immersed in a deep mental health crisis. Despite the fact that at least a quarter of the population was destined to suffer from mental illness throughout their lives, the health authorities did not take measures commensurate with the seriousness of the matter. And the situation generated by the new coronavirus only made things worse.
The physical isolation to which the population was subjected, added to the fear and bewilderment due to the immediate effects of the virus on health, were two of the main triggers. But economic woes, misinformation and rumours (often distressing) about everything surrounding covid-19 also contributed.
Not forgetting that exposure to contradictory, unreliable or focused information only on negative aspects of the situation can lead to mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.
Children, adolescents and health workers, the most affected
Those who have borne the brunt of this psychic toll from the pandemic have been children and adolescents. Without the structured environment of the school, and after losing family routines and the possibility of playing sports, or even going out with friends, they have suffered longer and more intense adverse consequences. Disorders of eating behaviour and suicide attempts were the stars on the fringes of adolescents and young age.
Front-line health workers, who among other things have suffered from compassion fatigue, have not fared too well either.
It is a form of secondary stress in the therapeutic help relationship, which occurs when the emotional capacity of the healthcare professional overflows to cope with the empathic commitment to the patient’s suffering.
The positive part of all this is that in 2021 we have talked so much about mental health that many taboos have begun to be blurred. With the Olympic athlete Simone Biles we brought to the table how vulnerable we are to the events of life.
And with the goodbye of the actress Verónica Forqué, we finally talk about suicide (and how to detect it before it is too late) without mincing words.
We have also broken this year with that kind of unspoken pact not to mention depression, the mental illness with the highest incidence in the world. Besides, it seems that we are finally beginning to understand that asking for professional help if we need it does not make us weaker, but quite the opposite: it is a strength.
Although we have not nearly reached the mental health goals set for 2020 by the World Health Organisation, it is not losing hope and has granted us a generous extension.
We have until 2030 to make access to quality mental health care universal. Hopefully we do not miss the opportunity to take this important step once and for all and anticipate what is to come, such as eco-anxiety , that chronic fear of an environmental collapse that experts predict will emerge as soon as the pandemic subsides.