The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on mental health worldwide, and action must be taken to “redress the glaring inequalities exposed by the pandemic”, including over access to vital services, declared UN Secretary-General António Guterres, ahead of World Mental Health Day, marked on Sunday.
Reminding that millions of people face grief over lost family members and friends, that many are anxious over job security, and that older people may experience isolation and loneliness, Mr. Guterres said that “without determined action, the mental health impact may last far longer than the pandemic itself”.
Children ‘alienated and distressed’
In his message for the Day, the UN chief also highlighted that children and adolescents “may feel alienated and distressed” and called for action to address the inequality in access to mental health services.
According to the World Health Organization, WHO, around 20 percent of the world’s children and adolescents have a mental health condition, with suicide the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds.
Earlier in the week, the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, urged more investment on child mental health.
The latest edition of the agency’s flagship report, The State of the World’s Children, highlights that even before the crisis, children and youth were already carrying the burden of mental health conditions, and without significant investment in addressing them.
The past 18 months have been hard on children, said Henrietta Fore, the UNICEF Executive Director.
Inequality in treatment access
“In high-income countries, over 75 percent of people with depression report that they do not receive adequate care, and in low and middle-income countries, over 75 percent of people with mental health conditions receive no treatment at all”, continued Mr. Guterres.
Pointing to chronic under-investment as the main factor, with governments spending an average of just over 2 percent of their health budgets on mental health, the UN chief said it was simply “unacceptable”.
Underlining that there is finally recognition that “there can be no health without mental health”, he noted that Member States have endorsed WHO’s updated Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan.
In 2019, the UN health agency launched the WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health (2019-2023): Universal Health Coverage for Mental Health to ensure access to quality and affordable care for mental health conditions in 12 priority countries, serving 100 million more people.
During the World Health Assembly in May 2021, governments from around the world recognized the need to scale up quality mental health services at all levels, and some countries have found new ways of providing mental health care to their populations.
“The United Nations family, together with partners across the global mental health community, are introducing new guidelines and developing new tools to improve mental health”, Mr. Guterres added.
Long way to go
Concluding that “these are positive steps, but we have a long way to go”, the UN Secretary-General reiterated UN’s commitment “to work together with urgency and purpose to ensure quality mental health care for all people, everywhere”.
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