World Mental Health Day - October 10
Today, on World Mental Health Day, it will have been more than 18 months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In some countries, life is returning to some semblance of normality; in others, rates of transmission and hospital admissions remain high, disrupting the lives of families and communities.
In all countries, the pandemic has had a major impact on people’s mental health. Some groups, including health and other frontline workers, students, people living alone, and those with pre-existing mental health conditions, have been particularly affected. At the same time, a WHO survey conducted in mid-2020 clearly showed that services for mental, neurological, and substance use disorders had been significantly disrupted during the pandemic.
Yet there is some cause for optimism. During the World Health Assembly in May 2021, governments from around the world recognized the need to scale up quality mental health services at all levels and endorsed WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2030, including the Plan’s updated implementation options and indicators for measuring progress.
It’s time to capitalize on this renewed energy among government leaders to make quality mental health care for all a reality. World Mental Health Day presents an opportunity for government leaders, civil society organizations, and many others to talk about the steps they are already taking and that they intend to take in support of this goal.
In recent years, there has been increasing acknowledgment of the important role mental health plays in achieving global development goals, as illustrated by the inclusion of mental health in the Sustainable Development Goals. Depression is one of the leading causes of disability. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. People with severe mental health conditions die prematurely – as much as two decades early – due to preventable physical conditions.
Despite progress in some countries, people with mental health conditions often experience severe human rights violations, discrimination, and stigma.
Many mental health conditions can be effectively treated at a relatively low cost, yet the gap between people needing care and those with access to care remains substantial. Effective treatment coverage remains extremely low.
Increased investment is required on all fronts: for mental health, awareness to increase understanding and reduce stigma; for efforts to increase access to quality mental health care and effective treatments; and for research to identify new treatments and improve existing treatments for all mental disorders. In 2019, WHO launched the WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health (2019-2023): Universal Health Coverage for Mental Health to ensure access to quality and affordable care for mental health conditions in 12 priority countries to 100 million more people.
Mental health conditions are increasing worldwide. Mainly because of demographic changes, there has been a 13% rise in mental health conditions and substance use disorders in the last decade (to 2017). Mental health conditions now cause 1 in 5 years lived with disability. Around 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have a mental health condition, with suicide the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. Approximately one in five people in post-conflict settings have a mental health condition.
Mental health conditions can have a substantial effect on all areas of life, such as school or work performance, relationships with family and friends, and the ability to participate in the community. Two of the most common mental health conditions, depression, and anxiety, cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year.
Despite these figures, the global median of government health expenditure that goes to mental health is less than 2%.
Mental Health and COVID-19
Fear, worry, and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats, and at times when we are faced with uncertainty or the unknown. So it is normal and understandable that people are experiencing fear in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Added to the fear of contracting the virus in a pandemic such as COVID-19 are the significant changes to our daily lives as our movements are restricted in support of efforts to contain and slow down the spread of the virus. Faced with new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends, and colleagues, it is important that we look after our mental, as well as our physical, health.
The World Health Organization, together with its partners, is providing guidance and advice during the COVID-19 pandemic for health workers, managers of health facilities, people who are looking after children, older adults, people in isolation, and members of the public more generally, to help us look after our mental health.
As countries introduce measures to restrict movement as part of efforts to reduce the number of people infected with COVID-19, more and more of us are making huge changes to our daily routines.
The new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends, and colleagues take time to get used to. Adapting to lifestyle changes such as these, and managing the fear of contracting the virus and worry about people close to us who are particularly vulnerable, are challenging for all of us. They can be particularly difficult for people with mental health conditions.
Fortunately, there are lots of things that we can do to look after our own mental health and to help others who may need some extra support and care.
Here are tips and advice that we hope you will find useful.
- Keep informed. Listen to advice and recommendations from your national and local authorities. Follow trusted news channels, such as local and national TV and radio, and keep up-to-date with the latest news from @WHO on social media.
- Have a routine. Keep up with daily routines as far as possible, or make new ones.
- Get up and go to bed at similar times every day.
- Keep up with personal hygiene.
- Eat healthy meals at regular times.
- Exercise regularly.
- Allocate time for working and time for resting.
- Make time for doing things you enjoy.
- Minimize newsfeeds. Try to reduce how much you watch, read, or listen to news that makes you feel anxious or distressed. Seek the latest information at specific times of the day, once or twice a day if needed.
- Social contact is important. If your movements are restricted, keep in regular contact with people close to you by telephone and online channels.
- Alcohol and drug use. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink or don’t drink alcohol at all. Don’t start drinking alcohol if you have not drunk alcohol before. Avoid using alcohol and drugs as a way of dealing with fear, anxiety, boredom, and social isolation.
There is no evidence of any protective effect of drinking alcohol for viral or other infections. In fact, the opposite is true as the harmful use of alcohol is associated with an increased risk of infections and worse treatment outcomes.
And be aware that alcohol and drug use may prevent you from taking sufficient precautions to protect yourself again infection, such as compliance with hand hygiene.
- Screen time. Be aware of how much time you spend in front of a screen every day. Make sure that you take regular breaks from on-screen activities.
- Video games. While video games can be a way to relax, it can be tempting to spend much more time on them than usual when at home for long periods. Be sure to keep the right balance with offline activities in your daily routine.
- Social media. Use your social media accounts to promote positive and hopeful stories. Correct misinformation wherever you see it.
- Help others. If you are able to, offer support to people in your community who may need it, such as helping them with food shopping.
- Support health workers. Take opportunities online or through your community to thank your country’s healthcare workers and all those working to respond to COVID-19.
Fear is a normal reaction in situations of uncertainty. But sometimes fear is expressed in ways that are hurtful to other people. Remember:
- Be kind. Don’t discriminate against people because of your fears of the spread of COVID-19.
- Don’t discriminate against people who you think may have coronavirus.
- Don’t discriminate against health workers. Health workers deserve our respect and gratitude.
- COVID-19 has affected people from many countries. Don’t attribute it to any specific group.
If you are a parent
In times of stress, it is common for children to seek more of your attention.
What you can do:
- Maintain familiar routines as much as possible, or create new ones, especially if you must stay at home.
- Discuss the new coronavirus with your children in an honest way, using age-appropriate language.
- Support your children with at-home learning and make sure time is set aside for play.
- Help children find positive ways to express feelings such as fear and sadness. Sometimes engaging in a creative activity, such as playing or drawing, can help you with this process.
- Help children stay in contact with friends and family members through telephone and online channels.
- Make sure that your children have time away from screens every day and spend time doing offline activities together. Do something creative: draw a picture, write a poem, build something. Bake a cake. Sing or dance, or play in your garden, if you have one.
- Try and ensure that your children do not spend significantly more time than usual on video games.
If you are an older adult
- Keep in regular contact with loved ones, for example by telephone, e-mail, social media, or video conference.
- Keep regular routines and schedules as much as possible for eating, sleeping, and activities you enjoy.
- Learn simple daily physical exercises to do at home when in quarantine so you can maintain mobility.
- Find out how to get practical help if needed, like calling a taxi, having food delivered, or asking for medical care. Make sure you have a one-month supply or longer of your regular medicines. Ask family members, friends, or neighbors for support, if needed.
If you have a mental health condition
- If you are being treated for a mental health condition, make sure that you continue to take medication as prescribed, and that you have a way of re-stocking your medication. If you see a mental health specialist, find out how to continue with that support during the outbreak.
- Keep in touch with people who care for you and know who you can contact for support if your mental health declines.
- If you are being treated for an alcohol or drug use disorder, be aware that the COVID-19 outbreak may lead to increased feelings of fear, anxiety, and isolation that can increase the risk of relapse, substance use, disengagement from treatment, or non-compliance with treatment regimens. Make sure that you continue to take medication as prescribed, particularly if you receive treatment with opioid medicines such as methadone or buprenorphine, and that you have a way of obtaining a regular supply of your medication. If you are receiving support through a psychologist or support group, find out how to continue that support during the outbreak.
- If you are being treated for gaming or gambling disorder, continue with your treatment if possible. Check with your therapist or healthcare provider about the best way of continuing with therapy during confinement at home.
World Health Organization Response
WHO’s mental health activities cover normative activities and country support activities. WHO has helped extend mental health care in more than 110 countries and is active in the following areas: integration in general health care (through the Mental Health Gap Action Programme, mhGAP) and in disease or topic-specific programs such as those for HIV, tuberculosis, and gender-based violence; suicide prevention; workforce development for mental health; promotion of the quality of care and the rights of people receiving care (QualityRights); mental health policy and legislation; mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian emergencies; development and testing of innovative psychological interventions including digital interventions; mental health in the workplace; mental health economics; the mental health of children and adolescents; and mental health promotion.