The World Health Organization said on Thursday that the mental health impact of the pandemic would be “long-term and far-reaching”, as experts and leaders called for action to address the anxiety and stress associated with COVID-19.
“Everyone is affected in some way or the other,” the WHO said in a statement at the start of a two-day meeting with health ministers from dozens of countries in Athens.
It said “concerns surrounding virus transmission, the psychological impact of lockdowns and self-isolation” had contributed to the mental health crisis, along with unemployment, financial concerns and stresses associated with social isolation.
“The pandemic will have a long-term and far-reaching impact on mental health,” the statement said.
WHO’s regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said mental health should be considered a “fundamental human right”, emphasizing how the virus had torn lives apart.
“The pandemic has rocked the world,” he said at the conference.
“Globally more than four million people lost their lives, livelihoods were ruined, families and communities were torn apart, businesses went bankrupt, and people were denied opportunities.”
WHO called for strengthening mental health services in general and improving access to care through technology.
It also urged for better psychological support services for schools, universities, workplaces and those on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19.
Ministers heard from a 38-year-old Greek woman named Katerina, who told them how she had been receiving treatment for a psychiatric disorder since 2002 and was coping well until the pandemic hit.
She was no longer able to attend support groups in person and could not see her father, forcing her to promote his treatment.
“The pressure of social isolation added to the anxiety,” she said.
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