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The #Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93 per cent of countries worldwide while the demand for mental health is increasing, according to a new WHO survey. The survey of 130 countries provides the first global data showing the devastating impact of #Covid-19 on access to mental health services and underscores the urgent need for increased funding.

The survey was published ahead of WHO’s Big Event for Mental Health a global online advocacy event on 10 October that will bring together world leaders, celebrities, and advocates to call for increased mental health investments in the wake of #Covid-19.

WHO has previously highlighted the chronic underfunding of mental health: prior to the pandemic, countries were spending less than two per cent of their national health budgets on mental health, and struggling to meet their populations’ needs.

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And the pandemic is increasing demand for mental health services. Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones. Many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety. Meanwhile, #Covid-19 itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation, and stroke. People with pre-existing mental, neurological or substance use disorders are also more vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 infection they may stand a higher risk of severe outcomes and even death.

“Good mental health is absolutely fundamental to overall health and well-being,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “#Covid-19 has interrupted essential mental health services around the world just when they’re needed most. World leaders must move fast and decisively to invest more in life-saving mental health programmes during the pandemic and beyond.”

The survey was conducted from June to August 2020 among 130 countries across WHO’s six regions. It evaluates how the provision of mental, neurological and substance use services has changed due to #Covid-19, the types of services that have been disrupted, and how countries are adapting to overcome these challenges.

Over 60 per cent reported disruptions to mental health services for vulnerable people, including children and adolescents (72 per cent), older adults (70 per cent), and women requiring antenatal or postnatal services (61 per cent).

67 per cent saw disruptions to counseling and psychotherapy; 65 per cent to critical harm reduction services; and 45 per cent to opioid agonist maintenance treatment for opioid dependence.

More than a third (35 per cent) reported disruptions to emergency interventions, including those for people experiencing prolonged seizures; severe substance use withdrawal syndromes; and delirium, often a sign of a serious underlying medical condition.

30 per cent reported disruptions to access for medications for mental, neurological and substance use disorders.

Around three-quarters reported at least partial disruptions to school and workplace mental health services (78 per cent and 75 per cent respectively).

While many countries (70 per cent) have adopted telemedicine or teletherapy to overcome disruptions to in-person services, there are significant disparities in the uptake of these interventions. More than 80 per cent of high-income countries reported deploying telemedicine and teletherapy to bridge gaps in mental health, compared with less than 50 per cent of low-income countries.

Although 89 per cent of countries reported in the survey that mental health and psychosocial support is part of their national #Covid-19 response plans, only 17 per cent of these countries have full additional funding for covering these activities.

As the pandemic continues, even greater demand will be placed on national and international mental health programmes that have suffered from years of chronic underfunding. Spending two percent of national health budgets on mental health is not enough. International funders also need to do more: mental health still receives less than one per cent of international aid earmarked for health.

Those who do invest in mental health will reap rewards. Pre-#Covid-19 estimates reveal that nearly US$ 1 trillion in economic productivity is lost annually from depression and anxiety alone. However, studies show that every US$ 1 spent on evidence-based care for depression and anxiety returns $5.