A Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) document has highlighted the devastating toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s mental health in the Americas.
The publication entitled ‘Strengthening Mental Health Responses To COVID-19 In The Americas: A Health Policy Analysis and Recommendations’ calls attention to the problem.
The publication appeared recently in The Lancet Regional Health – Americas and reviews studies and data from countries in the Region to better understand the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of the population.
According to the data, more than four in ten Brazilians have been struggling with anxiety, depression symptoms increased five-fold in Peru, and the proportion of Canadians reporting high levels of stress quadrupled due to the pandemic.
“The message is clear: we have been operating in crisis mode since the onset of the pandemic,” said Dr. Anselm Hennis, Director of Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health at PAHO.
“In addition to navigating the fear of getting sick and the trauma of losing loved ones to the novel coronavirus, people across the Americas have suffered from unemployment, poverty and food insecurity, and the adverse impact on mental health has been pervasive.”
The publication also indicates a stark jump in domestic violence incidents during the pandemic, citing national studies based on helpline records, police reports, and data from service providers, compounding the Region’s already high rates of violence, which are triple the global average.
The document also reviews the mental health toll on people who experienced COVID-19.
“Existing evidence suggests that one third of people who suffered from COVID-19 have been diagnosed with a neurological or mental disorder,” said the PAHO paper’s lead author Amy Tausch.
“We expect that the rising mental health burden may yet be one of the most significant long-term effects of COVID-19,” she asserted.
When care and treatment are most needed, the publication notes continuous disruptions in essential services for mental, neurological, and substance use disorders in more than half of the countries in the Region.
“Lack of access to counselling services, reduced availability of in-person care and school closures have limited the ways in which people can receive mental health support, leaving many isolated, vulnerable and at greater risk,” said Dr. Renato Oliveira, Chief of PAHO’s Mental Health and Substance Use Unit.
Headline photo credit: Asael Peña