UN Leads call to protect most vulnerable from mental health crisis during and after COVID-19

  • Decades of neglect and underinvestment in addressing people’s mental health needs have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN said on Thursday, in a call for ambitious commitments from countries in the way they treat psychological illness, amid a potential global spike in suicides and drug abuse.

Spearheading the alert ahead of the upcoming World Health Assembly in Geneva, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged the international community to do much more to protect all those facing mounting mental pressures.

Launching the UN policy brief - COVID-19 And The Need for Action On Mental Health – Mr. Guterres highlighted how those most at risk today, were “frontline healthcare workers, older people, adolescents and young people, those with pre-existing mental health conditions and those caught up in conflict and crisis. We must help them and stand by them.”

In a video message, the UN chief highlighted how psychological problems such as depression and anxiety “are some of the greatest causes of misery in our world”.

He noted how throughout his life “and in my own family, I have been close to doctors and psychiatrists treating these conditions”, and how he had become “acutely aware of the suffering they cause. This suffering is often exacerbated by stigma and discrimination.”

The UN paper also highlights a warning from The Lancet Commission On Global Mental Health And Sustainable Development, that “many people who previously coped well, are now less able to cope because of the multiple stressors generated by the pandemic”.

All this is understandable, given the many uncertainties facing people, the UN policy brief notes, before identifying the growing use of addictive coping strategies, including alcohol, drugs, tobacco and online gaming.

 “During the COVID-19 emergency, people are afraid of infection, dying, and losing family members”, the UN recommendations explain. “At the same time, vast numbers of people have lost or are at risk of losing their livelihoods, have been socially isolated and separated from loved ones, and, in some countries, have experienced stay-at-home orders implemented in drastic ways.”

Specifically, women and children are at greater physical and mental risk as they have experienced increased domestic violence and abuse, the UN paper affirms.

At the same time, misinformation about the virus and prevention measures, coupled with deep uncertainty about the future, are additional major sources of distress, while “the knowledge that people may not have the opportunity to say goodbye to dying loved ones and may not be able to hold funerals for them, further contributes to distress”.

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