Coronavirus may never go away, warns WHO; mental health crisis looms
The World Health Organisation has warned that the novel coronavirus may never go away and may join the mix of viruses that kill people around the world every year. UN health experts say that an upsurge in the number and severity of mental illnesses is likely amid the pandemic.
UN health experts have warned that a mental illness crisis is looming as people across the world are surrounded by death and disease and forced into isolation, poverty and anxiety by the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 has so far killed 297,000 people globally and infected more than 4.3 million, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
This comes as the World Health Organisation said the novel coronavirus may never go away and may join the mix of viruses that kill people around the world every year.
"The isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, the economic turmoil -- they all cause or could cause psychological distress," said Devora Kestel, director of the World Health Organization's (WHO) mental health department.
Presenting a UN report and policy guidance on COVID-19 and mental health, Kestel said an upsurge in the number and severity of mental illnesses is likely, and governments should put the issue "front and centre" of their responses.
"The mental health and wellbeing of whole societies have been severely impacted by this crisis and are a priority to be addressed urgently," she told reporters at a briefing.
The report highlighted several regions and sections of societies as vulnerable to mental distress - including children and young people isolated from friends and school, healthcare workers who are seeing thousands of patients infected with and dying from the new coronavirus.
Emerging studies and surveys are already showing COVID-19's impact on mental health globally. Psychologists say children are anxious and increases in cases of depression and anxiety have been recorded in several countries.
Domestic violence is rising, and health workers are reporting an increased need for psychological support.
COVID-19 MAY NEVER GO AWAY: WHO
Speaking at a briefing on Wednesday, WHO emergencies director Dr Mike Ryan warned against trying to predict when the virus would disappear. He said that even if a vaccine is found, controlling the virus will require a "massive effort".
“It is important to put this on the table: this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away.
“I think it is important we are realistic and I don’t think anyone can predict when this disease will disappear. I think there are no promises in this and there are no dates. This disease may settle into a long problem, or it may not be,” Ryan added.
More than 100 potential vaccines are being developed, including several in clinical trials, but experts have underscored the difficulties of finding vaccines that are effective against coronaviruses.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus added: “The trajectory is in our hands, and it’s everybody’s business, and we should all contribute to stop this pandemic.”
Outside of the health sector, the WHO report said many people are distressed by the immediate health impacts and the consequences of physical isolation, while many others are afraid of infection, dying, and losing family members.
Millions of people are facing economic turmoil, having lost or being at risk of losing their income and livelihoods, it added. And frequent misinformation and rumours about the pandemic and deep uncertainty about how long it will last are making people feel anxious and hopeless about the future.
It outlined action points for policy-makers to aim "to reduce immense suffering among hundreds of millions of people and mitigate long-term social and economic costs to society".
These included redressing historic under-investment in psychological services, providing "emergency mental health" via remote therapies such as tele-counselling for frontline health workers, and working proactively with people known to have depression and anxiety, and with those at high risk of domestic violence and acute impoverishment.