COVID-19 Disrupting Mental Health Services in Most Countries

A recent survey carried out by WHO (World Health Organization) suggests that the coronavirus pandemic has distorted or stopped mental health services in 93% of countries globally while the demand for mental health services is rising. The survey conducted in 130 countries offers the first glimpse indicating the devastating effect of coronavirus on accessing mental health services, such as drug addiction therapy, and underlines the urgent need for funding.

The report was published ahead of the Big Event WHO hosts for Mental Health – a worldwide online advocacy function held on 10 October, bringing together celebrities, world leaders and advocates championing increased mental health investment on account of COVID-19.
In the past, WHO had called attention to the chronic underfunding when it comes to mental health: before the pandemic, countries spent less than 2% of their health budgets on mental health and struggled to meet their population’s needs.

The COVID-19 pandemic is escalating the demand for mental health services. Loss of income, isolation, fear and bereavement cause mental health conditions or aggravate existing ones. Many individuals may be experiencing increased levels of drug and alcohol usage, anxiety and insomnia. On the other hand, the pandemic itself can result in mental and neurological complications like stroke, agitation and delirium. Also, persons with pre-existing neurological, mental health or substance abuse disorders are more susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 – they stand at an increased risk of severe outcomes or even death.

The World Health Organisation’s Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that good mental health is fundamental to overall wellbeing and health. He continued to say that the coronavirus pandemic had disrupted basic mental health services across the globe just when they were needed the most. And that world leaders should move decisively and steadfast to invest in mental health programmes during this period and beyond.

Survey Finds Major Interference to Vital Mental Health Services

The study was done from June to August 2020 amongst 130 countries across six regions that fall under WHO jurisdiction. It reviews how the provision of neurological, mental and substance abuse services has changed due to the coronavirus, the sort of services that have been hampered and how countries are coping with these challenges.

Countries revealed widespread interference of various types of essential mental health services:

Over 60% divulged interference to mental health services for susceptible persons, including adolescents and children (72%), women in need of postnatal or antenatal services (61%) and older adults (70%).

Sixty-seven per cent recorded disruption to psychotherapy and counselling; 65% to vital harm reduction services; and 45% to the treatment of opioid agonist maintenance to combat opioid dependence. Over a third (35%) recorded disruptions to emergency mediation, including those for individuals with prolonged seizures; adverse substance use withdrawal symptoms; and delirium, usually an indicator of a severe underlying medical condition.

Thirty per cent revealed interference to access medications for neurological, mental, and substance abuse disorders.

Approximately three-quarters revealed at least partial interruption to the workplace and school mental health services (75% and 78%, respectively).
Although most countries (70%) have adopted teletherapy or telemedicine to overcome delay to in-person services, there are massive discrepancies in the uptake of these intercedings. Over 80% of high-income countries recorded deploying teletherapy and telemedicine to mitigate gaps in mental health compared to less than 50% in low-income countries.

WHO has provided guidelines to countries on ways to maintain critical services, including mental health services during the coronavirus era, and advises that countries should focus resources on mental health as a fundamental component of their recovery and response plans. The Organization also implies countries to observe any alterations and disruptions in essential services so they can be addressed as needed.

Even though 89% of countries in the survey reported that psychosocial and mental health support is part of their national coronavirus response plan, only 17% of them have the funding to cover these activities.

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