As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its second year, new fast-spreading variants have caused a surge in infections in many countries, and renewed lockdowns. The devastation of the pandemic — millions of deaths, economic strife and unprecedented curbs on social interaction — has already had a marked effect on people’s mental health.
Researchers worldwide are investigating the causes and impacts of this stress, and some fear that the deterioration in mental health could linger long after the pandemic has subsided.
Ultimately, scientists hope that they can use the mountains of data being collected in studies about mental health to link the impact of particular control measures to changes in people’s well-being, and to inform the management of future pandemics.
In public mental health terms, the main psychological impact to date is elevated rates of stress or anxiety.
But as new measures and impacts are introduced – especially quarantine and its effects on many people’s usual activities, routines or livelihoods – levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behaviour are also expected to rise.
In populations already heavily affected, issues of service access and continuity for people with developing or existing mental health conditions are also now a major concern, along with the mental health and well-being of frontline workers.
As part of its public health response, WHO has worked with partners to develop a set of new materials on the mental health and psychosocial support aspects of COVID-19.
We all know Good mental health is absolutely fundamental to overall health and well-being.
While many countries (70%) 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% of high-income countries reported deploying telemedicine and teletherapy to bridge gaps in mental health, compared with less than 50% of low-income countries.
Although 89% of countries reported in the survey that mental health and psychosocial support is part of their national COVID-19 response plans, only 17% of these countries have full additional funding for covering these activities.
This all highlights the need for more money for mental health. As the pandemic continues, even greater demand will be placed on national and international mental health programmes that have suffered from years of chronic underfunding. Spending 2% of national health budgets on mental health is not enough. International funders also need to do more.
Let’s hope for the best