COVID-19 Reveals Critical Importance of Addressing Mental Health Problems in Society

NUR-SULTAN – The COVID-19 outbreak has changed the lives of millions and brought with it dire fallout, including increased mental health issues.  As the world marked the Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, it also reaffirmed the growing importance of addressing mental health, said head of the World Health Organization (WHO) office in Kazakhstan Dr Caroline Clarinval in an interview with The Astana Times. 

Dr Caroline Clarinval. Photo credit: WHO

World Mental Health Day has been observed since 1992 in an effort to raise awareness about mental health issues. 

“The WHO’s recommendation is to raise awareness of people to take care of their mental health as much as they take care of their physical health, because mental health matters, in fact, it matters just as much. Sometimes we have this impression where we have to show that we master all the situations in life but life very often takes a toll on us and situations where we lose a family member, where we face difficulties due to a disease, or when we have challenges at work. All these are situations that might reinforce the sense of not feeling well and the Mental Health Day is a day to remind us that we have to take care of our mental health as well,” said Dr Clarinval. 

The COVID-19 lockdown has been a “new situation” and it has tremendously changed everyone’s lives in its own way. 

“COVID-19 has generated a feeling of increased fear. We are afraid of falling ill and we may have difficulties taking care of the sick in our families. Some of us have had to endure a difficult moment when they lost a family member and it goes without saying that those situations are extremely difficult and require particular attention and support,” said Dr Clarinval.

But the pandemic also exposed what has been neglected for years – the need for greater investment and engagement in addressing people’s mental health needs by both the government and by people themselves. 

Many people still tend to neglect the importance of taking care of their mental health. Research shows that women are more prone to mental health disorders than men, but men rarely seek help. According to Dr Clarinval, if needed, mental health support should reach the entire population regardless of one’s age, sex, or financial resources. 

“Globally, 300 million people suffer from mental health disorders, and more specifically, depression. The European region accounts for 40 million people who suffer from mental health issues. Some of them refer to depression and anxiety disorders, there is only about 1 percent of the population that suffers from more severe versions of mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, and bipolar disease,” she said. 

Addressing mental health comes with its own challenges. 

Dr Clarinval said it is of paramount importance to deal with stigma, misconceptions and discrimination associated with mental health issues. People should be at ease when they seek mental health care because doing so on time can improve their well-being. 

Another side of the problem is training healthcare workers to identify mental health disorders and treat them properly, which requires further efforts. 

“We have to acknowledge it is part of life to not always feel well and that the right thing to do is to seek help in a timely manner. As a society, we have to ensure that we train healthcare workers appropriately in order to support and treat patients well,” she said.   

One of the organization’s priorities is children and adolescents, a critically important stage of life. At the global level, 10-20 percent of children and adolescents experience mental disorders and half of them begin by the age of 14.

The WHO and UNICEF have developed an evidence-based guidance plan on mental health to promote and protect the mental health of young people called “Helping Adolescents Thrive.” 

“Kazakhstan is one of the forerunners and engaged in this initiative. We can teach the youth how to cope when they are not feeling well,” she added. 

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