Fear about one’s own health and that of relatives, financial insecurity and social isolation: COVID-19 has changed life as we knew it and exerted an enormous amount of stress on people’s mental health.
“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health cannot be underestimated”, says Eric Hahn, a senior psychiatrist and head of the schizophrenia module at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. Eric Hahn is one of two Community Managers of the Hub Community “Global Mental Health, alongside professor emeritus Michael Wirsching.
A call for an integrative approach
In the past months, this Community has written a policy brief, which they presented to the public in early 2022. The brief is a plea to take mental health seriously: The pandemic is a prime example for why diseases should not be treated in isolation, the authors argue. They demand overcoming any existing imbalance between biomedical and psychosocial medicine. Instead of treating body and mind separately, they propose taking an integrated, or biopsychosocial approach.
The policy brief identifies concrete measures that health policy makers can take to protect mental health in the pandemic. Some recommendations are geared towards the general population, whereas others target specific age and risk groups as well as patients and their families.
The young have taken a heavy toll
While children and adolescents rarely fall severely ill from COVID-19, they are affected disproportionately by its mental health impacts. At the launch event of the policy brief, Ann Willhoite, a specialist for mental health at UNICEF, stressed the vulnerability of young people: “Mental and substance abuse disorders are the leading causes for disability in youth. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds.”
The pandemic has made existing problems worse. Lockdowns have deprived children and adolescents from basic life experiences or even exposed them to abusive situations at home. “It is absolutely essential that we pay attention to these issues now before it is too late for the next generation”, said Ann Willhoite.
Many measures that governments and other actors in the health system can take do not cost much money. They include providing the population with timely information about the risks to mental health and about resources that can help people cope.
More investment in mental health is needed
However, the fundamental issues in global mental health have no easy solutions. “Mental disorders are a pandemic in its own right that now interacts with the COVID-19 pandemic”, said Eric Hahn, co-manager of the Hub Community “Global Mental Health.”
Too little investment, fragmented access: Even before COVID-19, mental health services worldwide have had many weaknesses, concurred Dan Chisholm at the policy brief launch event. He is a specialist for mental health and substance abuse at the World Health Organization. “The pandemic has brutally revealed and exacerbated the shortcomings.
A change in mindset is needed, says Dan Chisholm. He declared his support for the policy brief demand to integrate mental health into the core of the pandemic response. The issue should not be seen as a burden, he said, as spending money on mental health is an investment, not a cost. “The crisis offers the prospect for real systemic and sustained change”, Dan Chisholm said.
Get involved: The Hub Community “Global Mental Health” is one of currently eleven Hub Communities founded by members of the Global Health Hub Germany. Here you can learn more about Hub Communities and their role in our network.