Covid-19 'affects mental health of 1 in 2 people'

An International Committee of the Red Cross report found access to mental health services is dropping as the need for them is growing

A healthcare worker poses for a photo with Laluchy Robotina, a robot designed to aid in the mental health of patients infected with the new coronavirus, in the COVID-19 ward at 20 de November National Medical Center in Mexico City, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. The 1.4-meter-tall robot that moves around on wheels visiting COVID-19 patients, is equipped with a camera and display screen which allows the patients to visit with relatives and to also communicate with healthcare workers, helping to reduce the risk of infection. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

Half of all respondents in a seven-country survey said that the Covid-19 pandemic has negatively affected their mental health, an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) survey found.

The global pandemic is worsening existing mental health conditions, triggering new ones, and making access to mental health services even more scarce, the ICRC found.

The report, called The Greatest Need was to be Listened to: The Importance of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support during Covid-19, found 51 per cent of adults perceive that Covid-19 negatively affected their mental health.

The report, released before World Mental Health Day on October 10, surveyed people in Kenya, Yemen, Bangladesh, Niger, Philippines, Colombia and Italy about mental health needs during the pandemic.

It found that respondents were worried about losing their loved ones, becoming ill themselves and health systems being over-loaded. These concerns were exacerbated by measures taken by governments to limit the spread of the disease, like lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing, which have had socio-economic impacts respondents were struggling to deal with.

For those with existing mental health conditions, accessing treatment has become more difficult, particularly face-to-face treatment, the report found.

Those who have contracted the virus told of the stigma attached to them and their families, and how it prevented them from seeking treatment.

“The Covid-19 health crisis has exacerbated the psychological distress of millions of people already living through conflicts and disasters. Lockdown restrictions, a loss of social interaction, and economic pressures are all impacting people’s mental health and access to care,” said Robert Mardini, the ICRC’s director-general.

“Mental health is just as important as physical health, especially in crisis situations, when mental health needs are especially critical.”

Almost two thirds of respondents agreed that taking care both of mental and physical health has become more important since the onset of the crisis, as the number of cases worldwide rose to 36 million and the death toll crossed one million.

The ICRC recommended urgent and targeted action to provide mental health and psychosocial support to those affected by the pandemic.

This includes governments providing access to timely and accurate information about the disease and its spread, adding mental health services to any response to the pandemic and prioritising support to medical and frontline staff working to combat coronavirus.

“When the spotlights go out, we have to be there to shed some light. Perhaps the darkness will remain the same, but it will become more bearable" said Fabio Specchiulli, a psychologist at Italian Red Cross said.

“Mental health programmes are some of the least expensive interventions in humanitarian response, but they have a lifesaving and priceless impact on the lives of people who need them” said Jagan Chapagain, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

“Now more than ever we must invest in mental health and psychosocial support for everyone – communities and carers alike – to help people cope, rebuild their lives and thrive through this crisis.”

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