Governments urged to invest in mental health – WHO

Friday, June 5th, 2020 00:00 |
A mental health patient chained to a tree. Photo/COURTESY

Mwangi Mumero

Governments urgently need to increase investments in services for mental health or risk a massive increase in mental health conditions in the coming months, a policy brief on Covid-19 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) now warns.

Already people across the globe have started experiencing aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic that have immense impact on mental health.

Lost incomes, businesses, social separation and reduced contact has had an effect on mental health.

In Kenya, lost incomes and stay-at-home orders has increased cases of depression and domestic violence in many families.

“Quarantine measures and lockdown are necessary to reduce spread, but we need to recognise the mental health problems they bring about- loneliness, fear and stress from financial loss and lack of basic needs like food and water,” observed Ms.

Habiba Amin a mental health practitioner working in emergency Covid-19 response in Nairobi.

According to Ms. Amin, misinformation and media overstimulation cause more panic, anxiety, confusion, depression and post-trauma stress disorder (PTSD).

WHO believes there is need for nation to take this issue seriously especially during this pandemic.

“The impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health is already extremely concerning,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

According to Dr Ghebreyesus ,  social isolation, fear of contagion, and loss of family members is compounded by the distress caused by loss of income and often employment.

Reports already indicate an increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety in a number of countries.

According to a study conducted in Ethiopia in April 2020, there was a three-fold increase in the prevalence of symptoms of depression compared to estimates from Ethiopia before the epidemic. 

Further studies have shown that frontline health care workers, faced with heavy workloads, life-or-death decisions, and risk of infection, are particularly affected.

For instance, during the Covid-19 pandemic in China, health-care workers have reported high rates of depression (50 percent), anxiety (45 percent), and insomnia (34 percent) and in Canada, 47 percent of health-care workers have reported a need for psychological support.

Children and adolescents have also shown difficulties concentrating, irritability, restlessness ad nervousness.

Those children with disabilities and especially living in crowded setting are particularly vulnerable.

Other groups that are at particular risk are women, particularly those who are juggling home-schooling, working from home and household tasks, older persons and people with pre-existing mental health conditions.

Mental health experts according to WHO are also concerned over increased consumption of alcohol especially among working persons.

Statistics from Canada report that 20 percent of the 15-49-year-olds have increased their alcohol consumption during the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the global health body, home visits should be organised for mental health cases. Telephone calls to mental health cases should also be enhanced.

Communities should strengthen social cohesion to reduce loneliness particularly to the most vulnerable such as older people.

Governments, local authorities, the private sector and members of the general public should be involved in initiatives such as provision of food parcels, regular phone check-ins with people living alone, and organization of online activities for intellective and cognitive stimulation. 

“The future requires developing and funding national plans that shift care away from institutions to community services, ensuring coverage for mental health conditions in health insurance packages and building the human resource capacity to deliver quality mental health and social care in the community,” said Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use at WHO.

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