Coronavirus disrupts mental health services in 93% of countries – WHO survey

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The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted critical mental health services in 93 percent of countries around the world, according to a new World Health Organisation (WHO) survey.

The survey of 130 countries provides the first global data showing the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the access to mental health services and underscores the urgent need for increased funding.

The survey was published ahead of World Mental Health’, scheduled on October 10. The event aims to bring together world leaders, celebrities, and advocates calling for increased mental health investments in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The WHO has previously highlighted the chronic underfunding of mental health. Prior to the pandemic, countries were spending less than 2 percent of their national health budgets on mental health and struggling to meet the needs of their population.

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Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones. Many people may be facing insomnia and anxiety.

Meanwhile, coronavirus itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation, and stroke. People with preexisting mental, neurological or substance use disorders are also more vulnerable to SARSCOV-2 infection and may stand a higher risk of severe outcomes and even death.

The survey was conducted from June to August 2020 among 130 countries across WHO’S six regions. It evaluates how the provision of mental, neurological and substance use services has changed due to Covid-19, the types of services that have been disrupted, and how countries are adapting to overcome these challenges.

Countries reported widespread disruption of many kinds of critical mental health services with over 60 percent reported disruptions to mental health services for vulnerable people, including children and adolescents (72 percent), older adults (70 percent), and women requiring antenatal or postnatal services (61 percent).

About 67 percent saw disruptions to counseling and psychotherapy; 65 percent to critical harm reduction services; and 45 percent to opioid agonist maintenance treatment for opioid dependence.

Nearly a third (35 percent) reported disruptions to emergency interventions, including those for people experiencing prolonged seizures; severe substance use withdrawal syndromes, and delirium, often a sign of a serious underlying medical condition. About 30 percent reported disruptions to access for medications for mental, neurological and substance use disorders.

Nearly three-quarters reported at least partial disruptions to school and workplace mental health services (78 percent and 75 percent respectively).

While many countries (70 percent) have adopted telemedicine or teletherapy to overcome disruptions to in-person services, there are significant disparities in the uptake of these interventions. More than 80 percent of high-income countries reported deploying telemedicine and teletherapy to bridge gaps in mental health, compared with less than 50 percent of low-income countries.

WHO has issued guidance to countries on how to maintain essential services – including mental health services – during Covid-19 and recommends that countries allocate resources to mental health as an integral component of their response and recovery plans.

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