The World Health Organization has reported that cases of anxiety and depression have increased by more than 25% worldwide due to Covid 19.
In a new scientific brief, the WHO also found that the Covid-19 crisis had in many cases significantly impeded access to mental health services and raised concerns about increased suicidal behavior.
The brief, which was based on a general review of a large number of studies, determined that the world saw a 27.6% increase in cases of major depressive disorder in 2020 alone.
There was also a 25.6% rise in anxiety disorder cases worldwide in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“In terms of scale, this is a very large increase,” said Brandon Gray of the WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, which coordinated the scientific brief.
Women and girls were more affected than men, and young people, especially those aged 20 to 24, were more affected than older adults.
Data on suicides do not clearly show a change in global rates since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Data from some countries showed rising rates, but others showed that rates had fallen or remained the same.
But Gray pointed out that there is often a lag in collecting and analyzing these statistics.
“I don’t think these results should be taken to mean that suicidal behaviors aren’t a concern,” he said.
The study meanwhile indicated a higher risk of suicidal behaviors, including suicide attempts and self-harm, among young people since the onset of the crisis.
Health worker exhaustion, loneliness and positive Covid-19 diagnoses have meanwhile been shown to increase the risk of suicidal thoughts, he found.
The study also showed that people living with mental disorders had an increased risk of serious illness and death from Covid.
Gray said more research is needed to understand the link.
One reason, he suggested, could be that people with mental disorders may lead less healthy and active lifestyles, with higher rates of smoking, substance abuse and obesity than the general public. .
Wednesday’s study also showed that outpatient mental health services were largely disrupted in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, reducing access to essential care.
These disruptions have been mitigated in many cases by moving services to online healthcare.
While this is good news, the study pointed out that the change has clearly exacerbated the barriers to appropriate care for people with little internet access or low levels of technological literacy.
Difficulties in responding to mental health issues amid the pandemic were largely the result of “chronic underinvestment” in these services before Covid-19 hit, Gray said.
“The decades of underinvestment are now showing in our lack of preparedness to deal with the scale of the problem,” he added.