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GUIDE IN BRIEF

Covid-19’s hidden health crisis of the mind

Sarah Mazzetti for Quartz
Published Last updated
Sarah Mazzetti for Quartz

The Big Idea

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to lead to a huge influx of patients in need of mental health support, and is an opportunity to reshape the systems that provide that care. Here’s the TLDR on our latest member-exclusive field guide on mental health’s turning point.


🤔Here’s Why

1️⃣ The coronavirus pandemic and its ripple effects are increasing mental distress around the world.

2️⃣ Many countries are ill-equipped to provide the support needed.

3️⃣  This moment could present an opportunity to shape mental health care systems into what they always should have been.

4️⃣  For the first time, the psychological wellbeing of low-paid yet essential workers is being brought to the fore.

5️⃣ And the pandemic has opened up a conversation around mental health support in places dogged by stigma.


📝 The Details

1️⃣ The coronavirus pandemic and its ripple effects are increasing mental distress around the world.

Experts in countries from France to Brazil, from Ethiopia to the United Kingdom, are calling attention to what they anticipate could be a huge influx of patients in need of mental health care, with needs far greater than the countries’ existing systems can handle. In May, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director of the World Health Organization (WHO), said it had become “crystal clear that mental health needs must be treated as a core element of our response to and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. A failure to take people’s emotional wellbeing seriously will lead to long-term social and economic costs to society.”

2️⃣ Many countries are ill-equipped to provide the support needed.

The US, as an example, has seen more cases of Covid-19 per capita than any other country and its citizens already had higher rates of unmet mental health needs than many other countries. Even before the pandemic, many of these patients couldn’t get the treatment they needed. “The gap in access to care is like the Grand Canyon. Any uptick is going to crush it,” says Luana Marques, who is the director and founder of the Community Psychiatry Program for Research in Implementation and Dissemination of Evidence Based Treatments (PRIDE) at Massachusetts General Hospital. Confounding the issue is the fact that people may not be seeking care or treatment out of fear of contracting Covid-19.

3️⃣ This moment could present an opportunity to shape mental health care systems into what they always should have been.

Professionals are taking innovative approaches to increase psychological and psychiatric support, while adoption of some practices is accelerating. Telehealth has already been one of the great successes of the pandemic. As lockdown orders prevented in-person visits, psychologist appointments have moved online. For some, online appointments are actually more accessible. As countries around the world consider different measures, some may help address the short-term mental health crisis. But to improve care for patients into the future, the world will need more science to find new treatments and effective models.

4️⃣ For the first time, the psychological wellbeing of low-paid yet essential workers is being brought to the fore.

The pandemic has exposed a less commonly discussed inequality: the mental health care accessible to white-collar and non-white-collar workers. Discussions of mental illness have long been taboo in the workplace, and in recent years tended to focus on white-collar professionals and the impact of working long hours. Companies are finally starting to pay attention to the mental wellbeing of the millions of frontline workers toiling through a public health crisis—from healthcare providers to cashiers to delivery drivers.

5️⃣ And the pandemic has opened up a conversation around mental health support in places dogged by stigma.

Many African countries suffer from a dire lack of mental health care professionals, and extremely limited infrastructure to deal with mental wellbeing. A legacy of brutal colonial practices and the outsourcing of care has at times resulted in inhumane treatment approaches. Some mental care providers are reporting that the nature of Covid-19—a unique crisis that can affect anyone, regardless of income or status—is bringing the issue of mental health to the fore in ways that people in power, from governments to funders, are finding hard to ignore.

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