How COVID-19 Has Distrupted Mental Health Services Worldwide

Two women in a conversation about mental health challengesThe COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on essential mental health services in 93% of all countries in the world. At the same time, a new WHO survey reveals that the demand for mental heath care is currently on the rise. The survey including 130 countries shows the tremendously devastating impact of this pandemic on access to mental health services. The conclusion of this survey is that this type of medical services requires increased funding to be able to satisfy the demand.

This survey was published just before the Big Event for Mental Health organised by WHO. The event took place on October 10th and it reunited celebrities, powerful personalities, world leaders, and advocates to underscore the urgent need for increased mental health investments due to COVID-19.

This was not the first time WHO raised a red flag in regard to the chronic underfunding of mental health. Before 2020, countries were spending a measly amount of their national health budgets on mental health, and that was far from being enough to satisfy the demand of an increasingly stressed population.

The pandemic has worsened things, as it has generated an increased demand for mental health services all over the world. As millions of people find themselves isolated, without jobs, without income, and frightened by the imminent health threat, existing mental medical conditions have worsened and more and more individuals have developed various mental health problems such as increased alcohol consumption, drug use, insomnia, panic attacks and anxiety. At the same time, COVID-19 can trigger mental and neurological complications such as agitation, delirium and stroke. Apparently, sufferers from mental and neurological disorders are more vulnerable to infections with SARS-COV-2 – also, they may develop more severe forms of the disease and may have a higher risk of death.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, considers that good mental health is an absolute must for the general health and well-being of the population. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has caused disruptions to essential mental health services just when they are in extremely high demand. He urges all world leaders to find additional funding to spend on life-saving mental health programmes, such as Gambling Addiction Treatment, even after the pandemic is over.

Survey Results Show Severe Disruptions of Essential Mental Health Services

This study included 130 countries and it was conducted in the June–August 2020 period. The included countries were representative for all six regions of WHO. The objective was to evaluate how the provision of mental health, substance abuse and neurological services has changed because of the COVID-19. Also, it took a closer look at what services have been disrupted the most and how countries are finding ways to adapt to this new reality.

Countries reported extensive disruption of multiple types of essential mental health services:

  • Over 60% reported disruptions to services aimed at vulnerable people such as older adults, children, teenagers and women in need for antenatal or postnatal mental services.
  • A significant 67% reported disruptions to psychotherapy and counselling services; 65% to critical damage reduction services; and 45% to opioid dependence treatment services.
  • About 35% of all included countries reported emergency care services problems such as those for individuals experiencing severe substance withdrawal symptoms and delirium among many other such troubles.
  • Almost one third reported disruptions to the access to medical drugs for mental, neurological and addiction disorders.
  • About three quarters saw at least partial disruptions to workplace and school mental health services.
  • About 70% of the countries adopted telemedicine and teletherapy to bridge the gap between demand and supply; the uptake of these interventions shows huge disparities. Less than 50% of low-income countries were able to implement telemedicine and teletherapy, by comparison with more than 80% of high-income ones.

WHO has released guides to help countries improve their supply of essential mental health services during COVID-19. It recommends countries to identify extra sources of funding to address these disruptions in the most effective manner.