Each year on Oct. 10, the world takes a moment to commemorate the significance of mental health and its impact on an individual’s life. This year, as we continue to reflect beyond, we see the world in a different light. Creating awareness for mental health issues and expanding access to psychiatric services has now become more essential than ever before.
The year 2020 will forever be known as the beginning of the “COVID era” as, unfortunately, the whole world as we know it adapts and reconstructs amid the rise of this global pandemic. This era has brought with it a wave of unemployment, social isolation, economic disaster, death, and disability. It is inevitable that such changes have brought forth perpetual fear and uncertainty, which have taken their toll not only on individuals’ physical health but largely on their mental health as well.
Factors that perpetuate deteriorating mental health include unemployment, poverty, isolation, fear and loss of loved ones – all of which have been further exacerbated globally, thanks to the current pandemic. According to the World Health Organization (), 450 million people in the world suffer from mental illness, and one in four individuals are affected by mental illness in some stage of their lives. This means that mental illness accounts for .
These challenges include providing care in difficult circumstances, going to work afraid of bringing COVID-19 home, and vulnerability toward becoming mentally and physically ill. An immense sense of responsibility toward patients with mental illness, coupled with continuous fear of becoming infected with this novel virus, has made managing the mental health of our patients all the more challenging.
As a psychiatrist (A.A.M.), I have noticed a massive increase in both the incidence and prevalence of mental illness. Emergency departments are full of patients presenting with suicidal attempts/ideation. Substance abuse has increased in greater magnitude, and outpatients are presenting with escalating numbers of depression and anxiety. Relapse of symptoms among stable patients has been another major problem. Incidents of domestic violence, road rage, and impaired driving secondary to alcoholism leading to psychiatric consultations have also risen drastically.
Mental health units in hospitals are tremendously busy with scarce availability of beds. The increase in waiting times for allocation of beds has also become a major concern globally.
Governments have allocated more funds and are actively attempting to mobilize resources in the developed world. However, adapting to the circumstances has proven to be far more challenging in many regions of the developing world. To avoid personal contacts in health settings, governments have allowed virtual consultations, which has proven to be a highly commendable decision. The use of telephone and video consultations has allowed physicians, particularly psychiatrists, to continue to provide health care to their patients while maintaining social distance. Crisis services have also become far more active, which can help in alleviating mental health emergencies to a great extent.
International crisis is possible
According to the director of the World Federation for Mental Health, citing the report of World Economic Forum, mental health problems could cost the global economy up to $16 trillion between 2010 and 2030, and if this matter is not addressed, it could potentially lead to an international mental health crisis. If the pandemic continues to create such a large impact for a prolonged period of time, the state of mental health globally will continue to be a major concern.
Universal effort is imperative to strengthen the mental health service and increase our ability to provide care for vulnerable individuals. This can be achieved through collaboration with other stakeholders, the allied health sector, the WHO, and the World Bank. The efforts should be directed toward the availability of funds, mobilizing and enhancing resources and training health care and crisis workers. This focus should not only be for developed countries but also for developing countries alike because we are all suffering from the impacts of this global crisis together.
It is important to raise awareness and support one another now more than ever before as we strive to improve and strengthen our mental health on this World Mental Health Day.
Dr. Muhammad is clinical professor of psychiatry at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ont. Ms. Amin is a 5th-year MBBS student at St. George’s University Hospital in London.