The United Nations calls for the protection of the most vulnerable from the mental health crisis during and after Covid-19


Prior to the seventy-third session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the international community to do more to protect all those facing increasing psychological pressure.

The Secretary-General has released a policy brief entitled: Covid-19 and the need for action on mental health, “ He highlighted the people most at risk of Covid-19 who are “front-line workers in the health care field, the elderly, adolescents and youth, who have pre-existing mental health conditions and are stuck in conflict and crises,” calling for their assistance and standing with them.

Devora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization (WHO), cited previous economic crises that “have increased the number of people with mental health problems, resulting in higher rates of suicide, for example, because of their mental health condition or drug use.”

Depression and anxiety are the “greatest misery”

In a video message, the Secretary-General explained that psychological problems such as depression and anxiety “are some of the greatest causes of misery in our world.”

He noted that throughout his life and in his family, he was close to the doctors and psychiatrists who treat these conditions, “which allowed him to realize the suffering they cause. This suffering is often exacerbated by the stigma and discrimination.”

According to the United Nations guidelines, depression and anxiety before the Covid-19 pandemic cost the global economy over $ 1 trillion annually.

Depression affects 264 million people worldwide. About half of all mental health conditions begin at the age of 14. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 29.

“Less able to cope” under Covid-19

The UN Policy Brief also highlights a warning from the Lancet Global Mental Health and Sustainable Development Commission that “many people who have adapted well in the past are now less able to cope due to the multiple pressures resulting from the pandemic.”

Given the many uncertainties facing people, the policy brief pointed to the increasing use of addictive coping strategies, including alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and electronic games.

UN News / Elizabeth Scaffidi

Girl playing video games using her mobile phone

High alcohol consumption

In Canada, a report indicated that 20% of the population between the ages of 15 and 49 years had increased their alcohol consumption during the pandemic.

United Nations recommendations make it clear that “during the Covid-19 emergency, people fear injury, death and loss of family members. At the same time, many people have lost their source of livelihood, or are at risk of losing it, have been socially isolated and separated from their loved ones, and in some countries they have witnessed Strict home stone orders.

The Policy Brief emphasizes that women and children, in particular, are at greater risk of physical and psychological abuse as a result of their exposure to domestic violence and increasing abuse.

Meanwhile, misinformation about the virus and prevention measures, along with deep uncertainty about the future, are additional major sources of concern, as well as people’s fear that they may not have the opportunity to say goodbye to loved ones who die and may not be able to hold funeral ceremonies for them, and all It also contributes to anxiety.

Weakness increased

National population data worldwide appears to confirm this increased mental impairment, according to Devora Kestil, citing surveys. “There is an increase in the prevalence of stress in 35% of the population surveyed in China, 60% in Iran, and 45% in the United States.” According to the United Nations research, the mental health symptoms it causes Covid-19 They include headaches, impaired sense of smell and taste, agitation and delirium, and stroke.

Basic neurological conditions also increase the risk of Covid-19, while stress, social isolation and violence in the family are likely to affect brain health and the development of young children and adolescents.

Also, social isolation, low physical activity and low intellectual stimulation increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia in the elderly.

Rebuilding better healthcare

“We have to make sure that there are measures to protect and reinforce the current situation. This is something that needs to be done in the middle of the crisis so that we can prevent the situation from worsening in the near future. We can prevent the numbers from reaching the amount of numbers that we have seen in previous emergencies,” said Ms. Kestel.

The data also confirm that medical professionals and other key personnel have experienced major mental health problems associated with Covid-19 emergencies. Ms. Kestel referred to some surveys that were conducted, saying that:

In Canada, 47% of health care workers – nearly half of them – reported the need for psychological support. In China, we have different numbers: depression 50%, anxiety 45%, and insomnia 34%. In Pakistan, depression is 42%.

Huge needs in conflict affected societies


A 13-year-old boy collects water in the Ammar bin Yasser camp for people displaced by the conflict in Yemen

The United Nations is also calling for action on mental health among people fleeing violence, since even before the Covid-19 virus emerged last December, there was a great need for mental health and psychosocial support.

Yemen is not only the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, it is also one of the largest mental health crises in the world

“One out of five people needs, in these circumstances, mental health services and psychosocial support because they suffer from a psychological condition,” said Fahmy Hanna, a technical official in the Mental Health and Material Use Department of the World Health Organization. He added:

“Yemen is not only the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, it is also one of the largest mental health crises in the world, where more than seven million people need mental health support.”

Institutional care reform is needed

According to the Secretary-General’s policy brief, many countries have shown that mental hospitals can be closed as soon as care is provided in the community. Dr. Hanna said:

“In all emergencies, not only in Covid-19 time, there are risks of human rights violations in long-term care facilities. There is also the risk of neglect in emergencies at these facilities, as well as the risk of disease and epidemics due to exposure of staff and residents to infection.

A major part of the United Nations appeal is to incorporate mental health care into all Covid-19 government strategies, given that the average national spending on them does not exceed 2%.

Dr. Hanna said that such a step could help countries like South Sudan, “where there is only one mental health professional for every four million people. This basically means that someone who lives in northern South Sudan, in a city like Malakal, needs to take a trip To the capital, Juba, traveling 2,000 miles takes 30 hours to reach the only service available. ”


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