This year’s World Mental Health Day, on 10 October, comes at a time when our daily lives have changed considerably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The past months have brought many challenges: for health-care workers, providing care in difficult circumstances, going to work fearful of bringing COVID-19 home with them; for students, adapting to taking classes from home, with little contact with teachers and friends, and anxious about their futures; for workers whose livelihoods are threatened; for the vast number of people caught in poverty or in fragile humanitarian settings with extremely limited protection from COVID-19; and for people with mental health conditions, many experiencing even greater social isolation than before. And this is to say nothing of managing the grief of losing a loved one, sometimes without being able to say goodbye.
The economic consequences of the pandemic are already being felt, as companies let staff go in an effort to save their businesses, or indeed shut down completely.
Given past experience of emergencies, it is expected that the need for mental health and psychosocial support will substantially increase in the coming months and years. Investment in mental health programmes at the national and international levels, which have already suffered from years of chronic underfunding, is now more important than it has ever been.
This is why the goal of this year’s World Mental Health Day campaign is increased investment in mental health.
WHO special initiative for Mental Health
Mental, neurological and substance use disorders account for more than 10% of the global disease burden. The lost productivity resulting from depression and anxiety, two of the most common mental disorders, cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year. In low- and middle- income countries, more than 75% of people with mental disorders receive no treatment at all for their disorder.
This is why, in 2018, the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, identified mental health as an area for which action should be accelerated. The result was the establishment of the WHO Special Initiative for the Mental Health, covering the 5-year period 2019-2023.
The goal of the Initiative is that 100 million more people have access to quality and affordable mental health care by 2023. The Initiative is to be implemented in 12 countries. Six have already been identified. They are: Bangladesh, Jordan, Paraguay, the Philippines, Ukraine and Zimbabwe. Each country has already undertaken an initial assessment to get a broad picture of the mental health needs, available services, opportunities and main challenges for scale up.
The strategies being developed are dependent on the results of the initial assessments. They are likely to include developing or improving mental health policy, and scaling up quality services in both community-based general health settings and specialist settings.
Looking 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.
Allocate time for working and time for resting.
Make time for doing the 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 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 off-line 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 health-care workers and all those working to respond to COVID-19.
Don’t discriminate.Fear is a normal reaction in situations of uncertainty. But sometimes fear is expressed in ways which 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.