COVID-19 needs action on mental health

ISLAMABAD: It is already proven that mental health is at the core of our humanity as it enables us to lead rich and fulfilling lives and to participate in our communities but 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…

Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, are some of the greatest causes of misery in our world.

Throughout my life, and in my own family, I have remained very close to doctors and psychiatrists treating these conditions due to which I became acutely aware of the suffering they cause. This suffering is often exacerbated by stigma and discrimination, which is absolutely unacceptable.

After decades of neglect and underinvestment in mental health services, the COVID-19 pandemic is now hitting families and communities with additional mental stress.

We all know that those most at risk are frontline healthcare workers, elderly folks, adolescents and young people, those with pre-existing mental health conditions and those caught up in conflict and crisis.

This is a crucial time for us as responsible citizens to help out and stand by them.For it is sure that even when the pandemic is brought under control, grief, anxiety and depression will continue to affect people and communities.   

This is the background to the policy brief on COVID-19 and mental health that we are launching today.

Mental health services are an essential part of all government responses to COVID-19. They must be expanded and fully funded.

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.

 We the human beings collectively must strongly be committed to creating a world in which everyone, everywhere, has someone to turn to for psychological support.

Being a responsible citizen I urge federal as well as provincial governments, civil society, health authorities and others to come together urgently and address the mental health dimension of this pandemic. 

Besides, I call on the governments in particular to announce ambitious commitments on mental health.“The pandemic is a health crisis which is quickly becoming a child rights crisis,” “Schools are closed, parents are out of work and families are under growing strain.

As we begin to reimagine what a post-COVID world would look like, these funds will help us respond to the crisis, recover from its aftermath, and protect children from its knock-on effects.”

Access to essential services like health care and routine immunization has already been compromised for hundreds of millions of children, which could lead to a significant increase in child mortality. Meanwhile, the mental health and psychosocial impact of restricted movement, school closures and subsequent isolation are likely to intensify already high levels of stress, especially for vulnerable children.

We must read this as a wake-up call to Pakistan to identify ways to sustain all vital ‎health services. For Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) some countries are already taking important steps, for ‎example ensuring that people can collect bulk packs of treatment, and other ‎essential commodities, including self-testing kits, from drop-off points, which relieves ‎pressure on health services and the health workforce.

We must also ensure that ‎global supplies of tests and treatments continue to flow to the countries that need ‎them.

“Every death is a tragedy,” and we cannot sit by and allow ‎hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young, to die needless and untimely deaths.

I demand of the governments to ensure that every man, women and child living with the HIV gets ‎regular supplies of antiretroviral therapy—something that’s literally a life-saver.

By: Farzana Ali Khan