U.N. secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, said vulnerable populations, including health workers, older people, young individuals, adolescents, and those with pre-existing mental health problems, could be caught in the turmoil of stress and anxiety.
“The COVID-19 virus is not only attacking our physical health, it is also increasing psychological suffering, grief at the loss of loved ones, shock at the loss of jobs, isolation and restrictions on movement, difficult family dynamics, uncertainty and fear for the future,” Guterres said.
“Policies must support and care for those affected by mental health conditions and protect their human rights and dignity.
“Lockdowns and quarantines must not discriminate against those with poor mental health.
“As we recover from the pandemic, we must shift more mental health services to the community, and make sure mental health is included in universal health coverage,” he said.
Guterres added that mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression are some of the most significant causes of misery worldwide, and with the ongoing stress caused by COVID-19, mental health services are an essential part of all government responses to the pandemic.
Before the onset of COVID-19, the U.N. had also found depression to be affecting 264 million people worldwide, and suicide ranking as the second leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 29.
The report and policy guidance from the U.N. said many people who previously have coped well with mental health are now less able to do so due to the combination of multiple stressors at the same time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During the COVID-19 emergency, people are afraid of infection, dying, and losing family members,” the report said.
“At the same time, vast numbers of people have lost or are at risk of losing their livelihoods, have been socially isolated and separated from loved ones, and, in some countries, have experienced stay-at-home orders implemented in drastic ways,” the report reads.
In order to manage the mental health crisis, the U.N. report suggested steps to minimise the mental health consequences of COVID-19, including applying a whole society approach to promote, protect, and care for mental health, ensure availability of emergency mental health support, and support recovery from COVID-19 by building mental health services.
In Australia, the Victorian government have published scientific modelling on mental health that has predicted if urgent action is not implemented to combat mental health concerns, over 370,000 more Victorians will seek treatment or be hospitalised in the next three years due to mental health problems caused by COVID-19.