WHO Calls For Massive Scale-Up Of Mental Health Services In Wake Of COVID-19
Mental health training-less than 1% of international health and development assistance goes to mental health needs.

Billions of people around the world have suffered from new or increased mental health stress as a result of COVID-19, which makes it time to redouble investments in one of the most neglected areas of public health.

This was the main message of a joint call by the World Health Organization, together with a number of NGO partners, to increase investments in mental health prevention and treatment, which currently account for only about 2% of national health budgets.

WHO, together with The World Federation for Mental Health and its partner organization, United for Global Mental Health, issued the call in a press release issued ahead of World Mental Health Day, which is celebrated on 10 October.

WHO notes that that international aid for mental health conditions in low and middle income countries has never exceeded 1% of health developent assistance. This is despite the fact that for every $1 US invested in scaled up mental health treatment for common disorders such as depression and anxiety, there is a return of US$ 5 in improved health and security.

Said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a media briefing on Thursday “Mental health was already a neglected health issue before COVID. Globally, 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder. 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol. 1 person dies every 40 seconds by suicide.”

Now, he added, “We are already seeing the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s mental well-being, and this is just the beginning. Unless we make serious commitments to scale up investment in mental health right now, the health, social and economic consequences will be far-reaching.

“World Mental Health Day is an opportunity for the world to come together and begin redressing the historic neglect of mental health.”

Events will include a virtual online march on 9 October, including a 24 hour livestream featuring mental health leaders and influences, along with people talking about their own mental health experiences. In addition, partners ranging from Human Rights Watch to Alzheimer’s Disease International will organize hour-long sessions on themes such as mental health and older people, youths, rights for the LGBTQ+ community as well as human rights more broadly. This will be followed by a global online advocacy event, hosted by WHO on 10 October. Underlining the efforts is a new campaign being launched by the partners and its affiliates, including Speak Your Mind “Move for mental health: let’s invest.”

Few People Have Access to Quality Mental Health Services

Few people around the world have access to quality mental health services.

In low- and middle-income countries, more than 75% of people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders receive no treatment for their condition at all. Furthermore, stigma, discrimination, punitive legislation and human rights abuses are still widespread, according to WHO.

The limited access to quality, affordable mental health care, and particularly in humanitarian emergencies and conflict settings, has been further diminished due to COVID-19 as the pandemic has disrupted health services around the world.

New barriers to treatment include: the risk of infection in long-stay facilities such as care homes and psychiatric institutions; barriers to meeting people face-to-face; mental health staff being infected with the virus; and the closure of mental health facilities to convert them into care facilities for people with COVID-19.

“It is nearly 30 years since the first World Mental Health Day was launched by the World Federation for Mental Health,” said Dr Ingrid Daniels, President of the World Federation for Mental Health. “During that time, we have seen an increasing openness to talk about mental health in many countries of the world. But now we must turn words into actions. We need to see concerted efforts being made to build mental health systems that are appropriate and relevant for today’s – and tomorrow’s – world.


Image Credits: WHO/K. Carswell .

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