Pay more attention to mental health, WHO says
Global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25 per cent in the first year of Covid-19 pandemic, a scientific brief from the World Health Organisation (WHO) now says.
The health agency, concerns about potential increase in mental health conditions had already prompted 90 per cent of countries surveyed to include mental health and psychosocial support in their Covid-19 response plans.
“The information we have now about the impact of Covid-19 on the world’s mental health is just the tip of the iceberg. Countries need to pay more attention to mental health and do a better job in supporting the population”, observed Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
Unprecedented stress, caused by the social isolation resulting from the pandemic, has been cited as major source of anxiety and depression in communities.
Linked to this were constraints on people’s ability to work, seek support from loved ones and engage in their communities.
Loneliness, fear of infection, suffering and death for oneself and for loved ones, grief after bereavement and financial worries have also all been cited as stressors leading to anxiety and depression, according to WHO.
At the same time, among health workers, exhaustion has been a major trigger for suicidal thinking.
The WHO brief says young people and women were the most affected. Data shows that the pandemic has affected the mental health of young people and that they are disproportionally at risk of suicidal and self-harming behaviours.
It also indicates that women have been more severely impacted than men and that people with pre-existing physical health conditions, such as asthma, cancer and heart disease, were more likely to develop symptoms of mental disorders.
People with more severe mental disorders, such as psychoses, and young people with mental disorders, are particularly at risk of further mental troubles, according to the brief.
WHO asserts that persons with mental disorders were unable to access face-to-face care with many people have sought support online, signaling an urgent need to make reliable and effective digital tools available and easily accessible.
Since the early days of the pandemic, WHO and partners have worked to develop and disseminate resources in multiple languages and formats to help different groups cope with and respond to the mental health impacts of Covid-19.
For example, WHO produced a story book for six to 11-year-olds, My Hero is You, in 142 languages and 61 multimedia adaptations, and a toolkit for supporting older adults in 16 languages.