We don’t need to have a mental health crisis if we prioritize mental health and integrate mental health services in the evolving economic, social and health policies for COVID-19. I know that is a big “if,” but the bottom line is that a mental health crisis is preventable if we have the political will.” Dr. Kathy Pike, Director of the Columbia-WHO Center for Global Mental Health.
Coronavirus has affected all aspects of our lives and the constant news about the pandemic can feel never-ending. Not only is it impacting our physical health but it is taking its toll on some people’s mental health too. Social distancing and self-isolating mean avoiding seeing friends and family and many people are worried about vulnerable loved ones. Staying at home, social distancing and self-isolating are crucial in stopping the spread of COVID-19, but they can affect us psychologically and mentally. Lots of people who were working in public and restaurants or who are self-employed have lost jobs or had their incomes cut.
In addition, some studies report a high prevalence of anxiety and depressive symptoms among health professionals that can be associated with: (i) COVID-19 exposure; (ii) epidemiological issues; (iii) material resources; (iv) human resources; and (v) personal factors. Health professionals working in the first line of care, with higher clinical responsibilities and those who have been infected have had higher prevalence of anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Therefore, the government should come up with clear mental health policy that outline three of the following as priorities: 1) apply a whole-of-society approach to promote, protect and care for mental health 2) ensure widespread availability of emergency mental health and psychosocial support 3) support recovery from COVID-19 by building mental health services for the future. In addition, I recommend that as part of the policy, mental health care should integrated into general health care and community mental health services should be fully developed. As this will ensure quality and accessable mental health care especially during the pandemic where due to isolation and worries associated with COVID-19 there is a surge in mental health problem in the society.
For health care professionals who develop anxiety and depression due to higher clinical responsibilities and exposure to COVID-19, government should come up with policy that encourage the use of virtual services for the health workers. Virtual services are safe, effective, and comparable in outcomes to in-person services during the pandemic. There should be proper reimbursement of Medicaid-based telehealth services. This policy should come with a premium placed on the need for everyone to comply to it, perhaps by force.
The mental health and wellbeing of whole societies have been severely impacted by this COVID- 19 crisis and it is a priority to be addressed urgently. Government and health authorities need to come together urgently to address the mental health dimension of this pandemic. This will be achieved through a research-based metal health legislation and policy.