Investigation by WHO Shows COVID-19 Disrupts Mental Health Services in Most Countries


WHO investigation found that COVID-19 has disrupted mental health services in most countries

World Mental Health Day highlights the urgent need to increase investment in chronically underfunded sectors

According to a new survey by the World Health Organization, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted or disrupted important mental health services in 93% of countries around the world, and the demand for mental health is increasing. 

This survey of 130 countries provides global data for the first time, showing that the COVID-19 epidemic has a devastating impact on access to mental health services, and stressing the urgent need to increase funding.


The findings were released before the World Health Organization’s October 10 mental health event. 

The planned global online campaign will bring together leaders, celebrities and advocates from all over the world to call for increased investment in mental health after COVID-19.

 The WHO has previously emphasized the long-term under-funding in the field of mental health: 

Before the epidemic, countries spent less than 2% of the national health budget on mental health, struggling to meet the needs of the population.


Infographics on Mental Depression and Coronavirus
COVID and Depression

The pandemic has increased the demand for mental health services. Bereavement, isolation, loss of income, and fear can all trigger mental health problems or worsen existing problems. 

Many people may be facing increasing alcohol and drug use, insomnia and anxiety. At the same time, COVID-19 itself can also cause neurological and psychiatric complications such as delirium, distress and stroke.

 People with mental, neurological or substance use disorders are also more likely to be infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, and they may face a higher risk of serious consequences and even death.


The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tan Desai, said on Mental Health:

 “Good mental health is absolutely vital to overall health and well-being. COVID-19 has disrupted basic mental health services when the world needs it most. 

World leaders People must act quickly and decisively to increase investment in life-saving mental health programs during and after the pandemic.”


Investigation found that important mental health services were severely disrupted

The survey was conducted in 130 countries in six WHO regions from June to August 2020. It assesses the changes in the provision of mental, neurological and material use services caused by the COVID-19 epidemic, which services have been interrupted and how countries can adapt to overcome these challenges.


Some countries have reported widespread disruptions in a variety of important mental health services:

More than 60% of countries report that mental health services for vulnerable groups are disrupted, including children and adolescents (72%), the elderly (70%), and women who need prenatal or postnatal services (61%).

Psychological counseling and psychotherapy services were interrupted in 67% of countries.

Important harm reduction services were interrupted in 65% of countries.

Maintenance treatment of opioid receptor agonists for opioid dependence was interrupted in 45% of countries.

More than one-third (35%) of countries reported interruptions in emergency intervention services, including emergency services for people and situations such as: chronic epilepsy patients.

Severe substance use withdrawal syndromes; and delirium, which often indicates severe underlying conditions.

Thirty percent of countries indicated that access to drugs to treat mental, neurological and substance use disorders has been disrupted.

About three-quarters of countries reported that mental health services in schools and workplaces were at least partially disrupted (78% and 75%, respectively).

Although many countries (70%) have adopted telemedicine or remote treatment methods to overcome face-to-face service disruptions, there is a huge gap in the adoption of these interventions.

 More than 80% of high-income countries report deploying telemedicine and teletherapy to bridge the gap in mental health services, compared with less than 50% in low-income countries.


WHO guidance to countries on how to maintain basic services

The WHO has issued guidance documents to countries on how to maintain basic services, including mental health services during the COVID-19 epidemic, and recommended that countries allocate resources to mental health in response and recovery plans.

 The organization also urges countries to monitor service changes and disruptions so that they can be resolved when needed.


Although 89% of countries reported in the survey that mental health and psychosocial support are part of their country’s anti-epidemic plan, only 17% of countries have sufficient additional funds to support these activities.


Obviously, the mental health sector needs more funding. As the pandemic continues, long-term underfunded national and international mental health programs will face greater pressure.

 It is not enough to spend 2% of the national health budget on mental health. International funders need to do more: mental health still receives less than 1% of international health assistance.


Can Epidemic Depression Lower Economic Productivity?

Those who invest in the promotion of mental health will reap the rewards. 

Estimates before the epidemic show that depression and anxiety alone cause nearly $1 trillion in economic productivity losses each year. 

Research shows that for every dollar spent on evidence-based care for depression and anxiety, there is a return of $5.


Mobilize the global community to take action to promote mental health

As part of the WHO campaign "Act for Mental Health: Let's Invest", WHO invited the global community to participate in the mental health event on World Mental Health Day (in October).

 This is an unprecedented online advocacy campaign that calls for increased investment in mental health at all levels from individuals to businesses, countries, and even civil society so that the world can begin to bridge the gaps highlighted in today's report.

The event was free and open to the public, and was broadcasted on WHO’s YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and LinkedIn accounts and websites from 16:00 to 19:00 CEST in October


For more information about World Mental Health Day, please visit the WHO site's event page.

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