Connect with us


COVID-19 pandemic triggers 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide




In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25%, according to a scientific note published today by the World Health Organization (WHO) . The dossier also highlights who has been most affected and summarizes the effect of the pandemic on the availability of mental health services and how this has changed during the pandemic.

Concerns about the potential increase in mental health problems had already prompted 90% of countries surveyed to include mental health and psychosocial support in their COVID-19 response plans, but major gaps and concerns remain.

“The information we currently have on the impact of COVID-19 on mental health around the world is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of WHO. “This is a wake-up call for all countries to pay more attention to mental health and do a better job of supporting the mental health of their populations.”

Multiple stressors

One of the main explanations for this increase is the unprecedented stress caused by social isolation resulting from the pandemic. Related to this were constraints on people’s ability to work, seek support from loved ones, and engage in their communities.

Loneliness, fear of infection, suffering and dying for self and loved ones, grief after bereavement, and financial worries were also all cited as stressors leading to anxiety and depression. . Among health workers, exhaustion was a major trigger for suicidal thoughts.

Young people and women most affected

The brief, which is based on a comprehensive review of existing evidence regarding the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and mental health services, and includes estimates from the latest Global Burden of Disease Study, shows that the pandemic has affected the mental health of young people and that they are at disproportionate risk for suicidal behaviors and self-harm. It also indicates that women were more severely affected than men and that people with pre-existing physical health conditions, such as asthma, cancer and heart disease, were more likely to develop symptoms of mental disorders.

The data suggests that people with pre-existing mental disorders do not appear to be disproportionately vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. Yet when these people are infected, they are more likely to suffer hospitalization, serious illness and death than people without mental disorders. People with more serious mental disorders, such as psychoses, and young people with mental disorders, are particularly at risk.

Gaps in care

This rise in the prevalence of mental health problems has coincided with severe disruptions to mental health services, leaving huge gaps in care for those who need it most. For much of the pandemic, services for mental, neurological and substance abuse disorders have been the most disrupted of all essential health services reported by WHO member states. Many countries have also reported major disruptions to vital mental health services, including for suicide prevention.

By the end of 2021, the situation had improved somewhat, but today too many people remain unable to get the care and support they need for pre-existing and newly developing mental health conditions.

Unable to access face-to-face care, many people have sought help online, signaling an urgent need to make reliable and effective digital tools available and easily accessible. However, the development and deployment of digital interventions remains a major challenge in countries and contexts with limited resources.

WHO and country action

Since the early days of the pandemic, WHO and partners have worked to develop and disseminate resources in multiple languages ​​and formats to help different groups cope with and respond to the mental health impacts of COVID-19. For example, the WHO has produced a storybook for 6-11 year olds, My Hero is You, now available in 142 languages ​​and 61 multimedia adaptations, as well as a toolkit to support older people available in 16 languages.

At the same time, the Organization worked with partners, including other United Nations agencies, international nongovernmental organizations and Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, to lead an inter-agency mental health and psychosocial to COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, WHO has also worked to promote the integration of mental health and psychosocial support into all aspects of the global response.

WHO Member States have recognized the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and are taking action. The latest WHO survey on the continuity of essential health services indicated that 90% of countries are working to provide mental health and psychosocial support to COVID-19 patients and responders. In addition, at last year’s World Health Assembly, countries highlighted the need to develop and strengthen mental health and psychosocial support services as part of strengthening preparedness, response and resilience to COVID-19 and future public health emergencies. They adopted the updated Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2030, which includes an indicator on preparedness for mental health and psychosocial support in public health emergencies.

Increase investment

However, this commitment to mental health must be accompanied by an overall increase in investment. Unfortunately, the situation underscores a chronic global shortage of mental health resources that continues today. The latest WHO Mental Health Atlas showed that in 2020 governments around the world spent on average just over 2% of their health budgets on mental health and many low-income countries have reported having less than one mental health worker per 100,000 people.

Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO sums up the situation: “While the pandemic has raised interest and concern for mental health, it has also revealed a historic underinvestment in mental health services. Mental Health. Countries must act urgently to ensure that mental health support is accessible to all.