COVID-19 & Mental Health

Globally, mental health is being challenged like never before by COVID-19. The impact of the pandemic on mental health is complicated, diverse and wide ranging.

Overview

Globally, mental health is being challenged like never before by COVID-19. The impact of the pandemic on mental health is complicated, diverse and wide ranging. From dealing with direct impacts; from loss of loved ones and after-effects of infection, to the aftermath of the physical, social and economic dislocation the world is only now beginning to contemplate.

Through the pandemic a heavy toll has been meted upon already overwhelmed mental health services, that are under-funded and under-resourced in many countries, and on every continent affected by COVID-19. The challenge to build a better and more resilient healthcare system, as the pandemic has shown, includes the need to urgently increase investment in services for mental health or risk a massive increase in mental health conditions in the coming months and years.

The Challenge

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on mental health services and disrupted care and treatment. Some specialised mental health services have been cut in order to increase the budget for, and capacity to, treat the physical impacts of COVID-19. Many mental health services have switched to remote care, providing consultations through digital platforms or by phone, with mixed success. The rise in remote or digital mental health services may lead to inequalities for those without access to the technologies necessary for these services.

The mental health impacts of COVID-19 are felt around the world and by people of every background, though some groups are more vulnerable.

Those with existing poor mental health face risks including disruption to their treatment, medications and the lifeline of support services. Studies show that COVID-19 is likely to make existing mental health symptoms worse or trigger relapse among people with pre-existing mental ill health.

Health workers who are under great stress are at particularly high risk of mental ill health, including suicide attempts, the risk of burnout and stigmatisation. Without support they will be unable to fulfil their vital role in stopping the outbreak.

Children’s chances to interact and access education have been affected by COVID-19 which can affect their mental health. Children who are spending more time with families during lockdown when there is already abuse in the family – or risk of it – are even more vulnerable.

In humanitarian settings affected by conflict and natural disaster, the mental health challenges are huge but often overlooked and the current pandemic adds an extraordinary level of stress to already vulnerable populations. COVID-19, combined with insecurity of housing and food, and feelings of helplessness and despair, may further worsen existing mental health conditions, trigger new conditions, and limit the access of those with pre-existing conditions to the already limited mental health services they had.

 

Our approach

As always, we work with national governments, international organisations to raise awareness of how important mental health is in building not only better global healthcare, but equality of access as a right.

Much of our work subsequently, including in other working groups, has been trying to provide answers to what post-pandemic mental health system can and would look like, and why mental health services are fundamental and complimentary to a holistic and effective healthcare system moving forward, even when so many other priorities may demand our attention.

Our work so far

We support the international community and our national partners to end the COVID-19 outbreak and build a stronger mental health system now, and for the future. Together, we raise the profile of mental health and call on world leaders, national and global funders to invest now, integrating mental health to ‘Build Back Better’.

We contributed to the UNSG Policy Briefing on COVID-19 and the need for action on mental health.

We started a weekly COVID-19 Webinar series in April 2020 in partnership with Lancet Psychiatry, Mental Health Innovation Network and MHPSS.net that put the spotlight on tackling the impact coronavirus is having – and will continue to have – on mental health.

The GMHAN, which we coordinate, has responded to the needs of its membership and from the outset of the pandemic it shared lessons learned about COVID-19 and mental health. This included regular updates on WHO and GMHAN member COVID-19 and a list of mental health resources that were made available online. Today COVID-19 is part of the everyday work of the network.

Our impact

Much of our work over the last few years on mental health during the pandemic initially focussed on the effects of COVID, and branched into wider discussions and solutions. Our advocacy, from mental health provision to the involvement of international and private stakeholders, has brought mental health centre-stage in questions of post-pandemic healthcare globally.

Download our brief: "The impact of COVID-19 on global mental health"

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