Policy Brief: COVID-19 and the Need for Action on Mental Health
To minimize the mental health consequences of the pandemic, it is important to consider urgently the following three recommended actions:
Apply a whole-of-society approach
To promote, protect and care for Mental health Mental health actions need to be considered essential components of the national response to COVID-19. A whole-of-society approach for mental health in COVID-19 means:
- including mental health and psychosocial considerations in national response plans across relevant sectors, for example supporting learning and nurturing environments for children and young people who are confined at home;
- responding proactively to reducing pandemic-related adversities that are known to harm mental health, for example domestic violence and acute impoverishment; and crafting all communications to be sensitive of their potential impact on people’s mental health, for example by communicating empathy for people’s distress and including advice for their emotional well-being.
Ensure widespread availability of emergency mental health and psychosocial support
Mental health and psychosocial support must be available in any emergency. Achieving this objective during the COVID-19 pandemic means:
- supporting community actions that strengthen social cohesion and reduce loneliness, for example supporting activities that help isolated older adults stay connected;
- investing in mental health interventions that can be delivered remotely, for example quality-assured tele-counselling for frontline health-care workers and people at home with depression and anxiety;
- ensuring uninterrupted in-person care for severe mental health conditions by formally defining such care as essential services to be continued throughout the pandemic; and
- protecting and promoting the human rights of people with severe mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities, for example, by monitoring whether they have equal access to care for COVID-19
Support recovery from covid-19 by building mental health services for the future
All affected communities will need quality mental health services to support society’s recovery from COVID-19, and this requires investment in the following:
- using the current momentum of interest in mental health to catalyze mental health reforms, for example by developing and funding the implementation of national services re-organization strategies that shift care away from institutions to community services;
- making sure that mental health is part of universal health coverage, for example by including care for mental, neurological and substance use disorders in health care benefit packages and insurance schemes;
- building human resource capacity to deliver mental health and social care, for example among community workers so that they can provide support; and organizing community-based services that protect and promote people’s human rights, for example by involving people with lived experience in the design, implementation and monitoring of services.
Rapid implementation of these recommended actions will be essential to ensure people and societies are better protected from the mental health impact of COVID-19.