Close to 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder, says WHO chief
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Close to 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder, says WHO chief

Credit: WHO

WHO warned ahead of World Mental Health Day on Saturday that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the mental health of millions of people and highlighted the urgency of increasing investment in this neglected area of health.

“Close to 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder, and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Yet relatively few people globally have access to quality mental health services. World leaders must move fast and decisively to invest more in life-saving mental health programmes during the pandemic and beyond.”

A report by Unicef last September looked at mental health and child well-being in the 41 richest countries in the world, members of the EU and/or OECD. In a new report published by WHO on 5 October, the health organisation looked at the impact of COVID-19 on mental, neurological and substance use services in 130 countries.

Overall, the pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide while the demand for mental health is increasing. WHO has previously highlighted the chronic underfunding of mental health: prior to the pandemic, countries were spending less than 2 % of their national health budgets on mental health.

The pandemic is increasing demand for mental health services. Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones. Many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety.

Psychiatrists are warning that prolonged lockdowns can result in stress disorders similar to traumas caused by accidents and conflicts. According to a recent American study (The New York Times, 10 October), nearly a third of hospitalized COVID-19 patients experienced some type of altered mental function such as the ability to carry out routine daily activities.

COVID-19 itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation, and stroke. People with pre-existing mental, neurological or substance use disorders are also more vulnerable to infection  ̶  they may stand a higher risk of severe outcomes and even death.

This all highlights the need for more money for mental health, according to WHO. As the pandemic continues, even greater demand will be placed on national and international mental health programmes that have suffered from years of chronic underfunding.

The Brussels Times