Picture: SOWETAN
Picture: SOWETAN

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday urged governments to increase funding for mental healthcare, warning that demand for those services was set to rise in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Its call comes hard on the heels of research released last week that found the prevalence of depressive symptoms in SA doubled between 2017 (pre-Covid-19) and June 2020 (during the Covid-19 era). The National Income Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile (Nids-Cram) survey wave 2 study found the proportion of people who exhibited depressive symptoms rose from 12% to 24% over the period, with the most marked increase among men, non-black Africans, people with tertiary education, and the wealthiest 20%.

Mental health services received only 2% of the globe’s national health budgets, and less than 1% of international aid earmarked for health, said the WHO, as it released a report showing how Covid-19 had disrupted the provision of mental healthcare services worldwide.

Its survey of 134 countries found mental health services had been maintained without interruption in only 7% of participating nations, and while most countries (89%) had included mental health services as part of their national Covid-19 response plans, only 17% of them had provided funding for these interventions.

The high-level report is based on a survey conducted between June and August, which evaluated how the provision of mental, neurological and substance abuse services had changed due to Covid-19.

Countries reported a wide range of disruptions to critical mental health services. Over 60% saw interruption to services for vulnerable groups, including children and adolescents, older adults, and women requiring antenatal or postnatal care. Approximately two thirds reported disruption to counselling and psychotherapy (67%), and to harm reduction services (65%). And three quarters reported disruption to school and workplace mental health services.

 “We understand that the attention in many countries has been prioritised to the priorities Covid-19 has presented. But if we don’t provide [mental health] services, we risk worsening the situation of many,” said the WHO’s director for mental health and substance use, Dévora Kestel.

“We estimate, and preliminary information is telling us, that there may be an increase in people with mental, neurological and substance abuse related conditions that will need attention [in the months ahead],” she said,

Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear were triggering new mental health issues, or exacerbating existing ones, while Covid-19 itself could lead to mental health complications, said the WHO.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za

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