As restrictions and mandates start to relax due to the reduction in transmission rates of COVID-19, we can reflect on its impact during the first year on mental health worldwide. According to a scientific brief that was recently posted by the World Health Organization (WHO), global prevalance of depression and anxiety increased by 25%. It makes sense due to the periods of uncertainty, loneliness, fear of infection, financial worries, and isolation that everyone across the world had to endure which all are stressors that contribute to anxiety and depression. This increase has prompted several countries to include mental health and psychological support in their COVID-19 response plans, but gaps and disparities continue to exists even through today and if things aren't done to address these concerns, the mental health issue across the world will continue to effect our economy, lifestyle, and health system. The data poses as a wake up call for countries to improve and emphasize the impact of mental health on the population and to provide better support for these vulnerable groups of people.
Among those who were affected, women and young individuals were hit the hardest according to the latest Global Burden of Disease study. Young individuals are disproportionally at risk of suicidal and self harming behaviors based on this study. The effects of COVID hit the minority community the hardest where they experienced death due to COVID, loss of their job, or had jobs without adequate medical coverage. These factors further contributed to mental health disparities that existed because of COVID-19.
Data from the brief, which is informed by a comprehensive review of existing evidence about the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and mental health services and includes the estimates from the latest Global Burden of Disease study, suggests that those with mental health disorders are not more vulnerable to transmission but rather when these individuals do get infected, they are more likely to suffer hospitalizations, severe illness and death compared to those without mental health disorders.
During the stay at home orders across the world, many mental health services, were put on hold leaving huge gaps to those who need the services the most. Essential health services that were tailored for mental, neurological, suicide prevention, and substance abuse disorders were disrupted across many countries. Despite the transition to virtual meetings, digital interventions like telemedicine lack in technology and equipment in resource limited countries and settings.
The World Health Organization (WHO) have taken steps to try to mitigate these obstables and gaps. Some of their actions included distributing resources in multiple languages and formats to help different groups cope and respond to the mental health impacts of the pandemic. This includes the story book, My Hero Is You, which is available for 6-11 year olds in 142 different languages and 61 multimedia adaptations as well as a toolkit that supports older adults in 16 languages. An updated Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2030 includes an indicator on preparedness for mental health and psychosocial support during public health emergencies.
The WHO calls for a global investment in mental health to tackle the chronic global shortage of mental health resources that will continue to grow if nothing is done. The Mental Health Atlas reported by WHO showed that in 2020, governments worldwide spend on average 2% of their health budget on mental health. Low income countries also reported having fewer than 1 mental health worker for every 100,000 individuals. Now that the pandemic has created a spark in interest in tackling mental health, action and awareness could be spread across the world to help individuals who are quitely suffering.
If you or someone you know have been affected by the effects of the pandemic seek help from a mental health professional today.