Coronavirus disrupting mental health services in most countries: WHO

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted “critical” mental health services in the majority of countries around the world at a time when citizens may need it the most, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday.

Access to these services has either been disrupted or halted in 93% of countries worldwide, according to a recent survey by WHO.

The survey indicated that over 60% of countries reported disruptions to mental health services for vulnerable people, including children and adolescents (72%), older adults (70%) and women who require antenatal or postnatal services (61%).

Although 70% of countries reported adopting telemedicine or teletherapy in replace of in-person services, “there are significant disparities in the uptake of these interventions,” WHO said.

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While more than 80% of high-income countries deployed telemedicine and teletherapy, less than 50% of low-income countries did so, the survey shows.

The results underscore “the urgent need for increased funding” in the sector, which was already suffering from a “chronic” lack of funding, WHO said.

“COVID-19 has interrupted essential mental health services around the world just when they’re needed most,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “World leaders must move fast and decisively to invest more in life-saving mental health programmes  ̶  during the pandemic and beyond.”

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Prior to the onset of COVID-19, countries were spending less than 2% of their national health budgets on mental health services and, as a result, they were “struggling to meet their populations’ needs.”

Now, it’s even more critical as bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are “triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones.”

During the global health crisis, people may experience increases in alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety, according to WHO.

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By itself, the virus can also “lead to neurological and mental complications,” which may include delirium, agitation, and stroke, according to WHO. People who already suffered from pre-existing mental, neurological or substance use disorders — who are also at a higher risk of contracting the virus — face greater risks of developing severe outcomes or even dying.

As the pandemic continues, WHO said that an “even greater demand will be placed on national and international mental health programmes” that have fallen victim to underfunding for years.

The organization is urging countries to monitor changes and disruptions in their services in order to properly address them.

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