COVID-19 pandemic is warning bell for the world to scale-up in investment in mental health
World Mental Health Day – 10th October
“Countries spend just 2% of their health budgets on mental health”
As the world is grappling with COVID-19 pandemic that has affected billions of lives, its impact on people’s mental health is a cause of concern. Already over a million deaths have been caused by the deadly Coronavirus, which thus far has infected more than 3.63 crore people across the globe..
Seldom has the world seen such an agonising period when the pandemic victims fear their lives, and millions suffer from the mental agony of losing their dear ones, sometimes without being able to bid the final goodbye. Lockdowns to prevent spread of the pandemic have crippled lives. They have resulted in economic slowdown and loss of jobs.
Livelihoods are threatened. Students are compelled to take classes from home with little contact with friends and teachers. Youth face an uncertain future. There is literally no outdoors for the kids. Millions are caught in poverty. Scores of countries now face debt distress. Even for the for health-care workers who are providing care in difficult circumstances, they go to work fearful of bringing COVID-19 home with them. To add insult to the injury, stigma, discrimination, punitive legislation and human rights abuses are still widespread.
Also read: WHO survey of 130 countries shows the devastating impact of COVID-19 on access to mental health services
To sum up the prevailing situation in a sentence, it would be apt to say that the pandemic has severely crippled the personal and social life of people, and Earth has suddenly started looking like a secluded planet. People are restive, there is anxiety writ on their countenances. Indeed this has been a traumatic period that no doubt with concerted global efforts, the world will overcome. But it will require much more than is being done. Mental health has emerged as a key area to be focussed in these trying times.
“We are already seeing the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s mental well-being, and this is just the beginning,” warns Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation.
But the ground reality as of today is that so far in low- and middle-income countries, more than 75% of people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders had never received treatment for their condition at all. Consequently, today, people with mental health conditions are experiencing even greater social isolation than before!
This traumatic period, therefore, is also the time to reflect on the prevailing poor facilities to address the mental health requirements of the people. “Unless we make serious commitments to scale up investment in mental health right now, the health, social and economic consequences will be far-reaching,” Dr. Ghebreyesus said.
A joint study by the World Health Organization, United for Global Mental Health and the World Federation for Mental Health, shows that close to 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder, 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide. Yet, with countries spending on average only 2% of their health budgets on mental health, it is one of the most neglected areas of public health.
The study further shows that despite some increases in recent years, international development assistance for mental health had never exceeded 1% of all development assistance for health. This is despite the fact that for every US$ 1 invested in scaled-up treatment for common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, there is a return of US$ 5 in improved health and productivity.
Relatively few people around the world have access to quality mental health services. Not just that, in a message on the occasion of the World Mental Health Day, today, the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed expressed concerns over the mental health of even the UN workforce – “The mental well-being of our workforce is crucial for staff and their families and fundamental for carrying out our work. Every day around the world, United Nations staff undergo stress, witness tragedy and shoulder a great deal of responsibility and pressure — including matters of life and death. And now the COVID-19 pandemic has brought additional challenges and the impact on people’s mental health has been profound. The United Nations is not immune and our staff are vulnerable to mental health issues. The Secretary-General and I are strongly committed to the mental well-being of all United Nations staff and upholding our duty of care…We are also striving to raise awareness of the many dimensions of mental health. And we want to highlight the critical importance of reducing stigma.”
Mental and physical health are two sides of the same coin. The WHO fears that given past experience of emergencies, the need for mental health and psychosocial support will substantially increase in the coming months and years. It stresses that investment in mental health programmes at the national and international levels, which have already suffered from years of chronic underfunding, is now more important than it has ever been.
Yet, as of now, the limited access to quality, affordable mental health care in the world before the pandemic, and particularly in humanitarian emergencies and conflict settings, has been further diminished due to COVID-19 as the pandemic has disrupted health services around the world. Primary causes have been infection and the risk of infection in long-stay facilities such as care homes and psychiatric institutions; barriers to meeting people face-to-face; mental health staff being infected with the virus; and the closing of mental health facilities to convert them into care facilities for people with COVID-19.
“World Mental Health Day is an opportunity for the world to come together and begin redressing the historic neglect of mental health,” Dr Ghebreyesus said.
– globalbihari bureau