A World Health Organization survey has said that the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted or halted mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide, even as the demand for them was on the rise. The survey was conducted in 130 countries from June to August, and published ahead of WHO’s Big Event for Mental Health – a global online advocacy event on October 10 that will call for increased mental health investments.

According to the survey, over 60% countries reported disruptions to mental health services for vulnerable people, including children and adolescents, older adults, and women requiring antenatal or postnatal services. As many as 67% reported disruptions to counselling and psychotherapy, and 65% to critical harm reduction services.

As many as 35% saw disruptions to emergency interventions, including those for people experiencing prolonged seizures, severe substance use withdrawal symptoms and delirium, the study said. Among the countries surveyed, 30% reported lack of access for medications for mental, neurological and substance use disorders.

“Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones,” the press release by the WHO said. “Many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety. Meanwhile, Covid-19 itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation, and stroke.” People with pre-existing mental, neurological or substance use disorders are also more vulnerable to the coronavirus, which may be severe in them, the press release said.

“Good mental health is absolutely fundamental to overall health and well-being,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO. “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.” Even before the pandemic, countries spent less than 2% of their national health budgets on mental health.

Over 70% of the countries surveyed said their citizens had access to therapy via telephone or other media. This percentage was 80% in high-income countries and around 50% in low-income countries.

On September 15, the Congress had urged the Centre to come up with an active policy to address mental health problems, which the party said is rising exponentially in the country in view of the coronavirus pandemic. Congress leader Anand Sharma said that reports show one out of seven people in the country was suffering from depression. “The number of persons affected by mental health issues has exponentially increased after the Covid crisis especially students and children who are committing suicide across the country,” he said.

Globally, the coronavirus has infected 3,52,31,182 people and killed 10,37,904 according to Johns Hopkins University. As many as 2,45,39,096 people have recovered.

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