The effect of COVID-19 on mental health cannot be elucidated

One of the biggest global crises of generations, the COVID-19 pandemic has had serious and far-reaching consequences for health systems, economies and societies. Countless people have been killed or lost their livelihoods. Families and communities have become strained and separated. Children and young people have lost their learning and social integration. Business failed. Millions of people have fallen below the poverty line.

As people cope with these health, social and economic impacts, mental health has been severely damaged. Many of us were aggravated; but for some, COVID-19 has triggered or exacerbated more serious mental health problems. Many people have reported psychological distress and symptoms of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress. And there have been alarming signs of widespread suicidal thoughts and behavior, including among health care workers.

Some groups of people have been harmed much more than others. In the face of the closure of schools and universities, young people have become vulnerable to social isolation and disconnection, which can lead to feelings of anxiety, uncertainty and loneliness, as well as emotional and behavioral problems. Increasing the risk of family stress or abuse that may force some children and teens to stay home because they are risk factors for mental health problems. Women have also experienced greater stress in their homes, and a quick assessment shows that 45% of women have experienced some form of violence, either directly or indirectly in the first year of the pandemic.

Although mental health needs have increased, mental health services have been severely disrupted. This was especially true in the early days of the pandemic, when staff and infrastructure were being redirected to the lightness of COVID-19. Social measures also prevented people from accessing care. And in many cases, poor knowledge of the virus and misinformation led to fears and concerns that prevented people from seeking help.

Fear factor

Esenam Abra Drah lives with bipolar disorder in Ghana, where the fear of the virus has been an unprecedented stress on the mental health of many individuals. “I have a lot of friends who have had an increase in their mental health because of increased levels of fear and panic,” Esenam says. “It was almost as if the fear was contagious.”

Esenam explained that most people are afraid to ask for help because if they visit the hospital, they may be infected with COVID-19. “I myself didn’t go to the clinic for therapy all year, partly because of that fear,” she says.

At that time Esenam, like so many others, was unemployed and had no money for treatment. Even before the pandemic, the cost of care was known to be a major obstacle to seeking help from people with mental health problems.

“I’ve had the privilege of having a good support system,” Esenam says. “My retired parents managed to make sure my medication was always refilled.”

“But it’s not the same for others,” he added. “Some couldn’t afford the treatment. It was a very difficult time and it is still for many people. ”

Recommendations for response

Since the start of the pandemic, mental health service providers have tried to alleviate service disruptions, such as providing alternative care through public health and social measures when they were in place. Community-based initiatives often adapted more quickly, finding innovative ways to provide psychosocial support, including through digital technology and informal support. And international organizations have also provided guidelines, tools, and resources to help respond to public health planners and the general public.

The WHO recommends the integration of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) in all aspects of public health emergency preparedness and response. To minimize the mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO also recommends that countries:

  • Apply a holistic approach to promoting, protecting and caring for mental health, including protecting people from domestic violence or impoverishment through social and financial protection, and communicating widely about COVID-19 to address misinformation and promote mental health.
  • Ensuring the widespread use of mental health and psychosocial support, including increasing access to self-help and supporting community initiatives.
  • Help revive COVID-19 by building future mental health services.

The COVID-19 pandemic, like other ongoing crises, has made it urgent to strengthen mental health systems worldwide. “The impact of COVID-19 on mental health cannot be underestimated. It cannot be clarified,” Esenam said.

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