While COVID-19 has had a distressing impact on mental health around the globe, World Health Organization professionals working in this area are heartened by the new, increased attention being given to emotional and mental well-being during the pandemic.

For more than a year, people around the world have been experiencing a series of accumulating, compounding traumas and stresses, including worrying about getting sick or their family members getting infected with the virus; concerns about their jobs and unstable livelihoods; juggling child care, parental care, housework, and careers; and an overall sense of dread and uncertainty about the future. COVID-19 preventive measures including physical distancing, quarantine, and working from home or taking online classes have further enhanced isolation and disconnected individuals from their friends, families, and support networks. Experts urge that this shared, universal experience of mental distress must convince communities and policymakers of the central importance of mental health to health care.

Before the pandemic, countries around the world were investing less than 2% of their health budgets on mental health. By the time the pandemic struck, more than 60% of countries reported disruptions to critical mental health services, including counseling and critical harm reduction services such as needle exchange programs and outreach to drug users. As in other parts of the world, this was a challenge for the Western Pacific Region, where more than 100 million people suffer from mental health disorders, 5% of which are depressive disorders.

Dr. Ligot and his colleagues were called upon early in the pandemic to help develop guidance for how to address some of the feelings and distress that people were experiencing and to build capacity of mental health systems in the Western Pacific Region. These resources targeted the general public as well as particularly vulnerable groups such as COVID-19 responders — nurses and law enforcement officers, and others on the front lines such as food service workers — as well as older adults in care facilities, people with preexisting mental health conditions, and children and youths. WHO is part of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support that has put together visual training modules to help front-line workers take care of others while also prioritizing their own self-care.

Read the full article about normalizing mental health support during the COVID-19 pandemic by Sarah Alaoui at United Nations Foundation