WHO: COVID-19 disrupting mental health services around the world

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In the days leading up to the World Health Organization’s Big Event for Mental Health, the WHO said 93 percent of countries worldwide have reported that COVID-19 has disrupted or halted critical mental health services.

As part of a survey of 130 countries, the WHO found that even though the pandemic is increasing the need for mental health services, countries continue to spend less than 2 percent of their national health budgets on mental health.

“Good mental health is absolutely fundamental to overall health and well-being,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “COVID-19 has interrupted essential mental health services around the world just when they’re needed most. World leaders must move fast and decisively to invest more in life-saving mental health programmes ̶ during the pandemic and beyond.”

Conducted between June and August of this year, the survey looked to evaluate how the provision of mental, neurological, and substance use services have changed during the pandemic, what types of services have been disrupted and how countries are adapting.

Over 60 percent of the countries reported disruptions to mental health services for vulnerable populations, including children and adolescents, older adults, and antenatal or postnatal women. According to the survey, 67 percent of the countries reported disruptions to counseling and psychotherapy, 65 percent saw disruptions to harm reduction services, and 45 percent reported disruptions to medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependence.

Additionally, more than a third of the countries (35 percent) reported disruptions to emergency interventions, including services for people experiencing prolonged seizures, severe substance use withdrawal syndromes, and delirium. Thirty percent reported disruptions in access to medications for mental, neurological, and substance use disorders. Three-quarters of the countries surveyed reported at least partial disruptions to mental health services in schools and workplaces.

While 70 percent of the countries said they switched to telemedicine or teletherapy to overcome these obstacles, there were disparities between countries – 80 percent of high-income countries reported moving to telemedicine. In comparison, only 50 percent of low-income countries reported making the switch.

The report comes just days before the World Mental Health Day, Saturday, Oct. 10. WHO is inviting the global community to participate in “The Big Event for Mental Health,” an online advocacy event calling for increased investment at all levels. The event is free and open to the public and will be broadcast from 4 to 7 p.m. CEST on WHO’s YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and LinkedIn channels and on WHO’s website.

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