Story at a glance

  • A new report issued by the WHO reveals the vast majority of countries are experiencing disruptions in mental health resource availability.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased anxiety among the general public and has exacerbated preexisting economic inequalities.

World Mental Health Day is on Oct. 10, and the COVID-19 pandemic is giving renewed attention to mental health as the world fights the coronavirus. 

Unfortunately, amid high demand during the pandemic, mental health services and resources have been disrupted by the coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Based on a survey conducted from June to August of this year across 130 countries, the report examined how the availability of resources for mental and substance use has changed due to economic shutdowns that came along with the pandemic.


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Results indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic has “disrupted or halted” vital mental health services in 93 percent of countries studied despite an increasing demand as the coronavirus continues to spread.

“Good mental health is absolutely fundamental to overall health and well-being,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, said in a statement.

Other results gleaned from the report indicate that 60 percent of respondents reported disruptions to mental health services for children, older adults and women — all vulnerable demographics. Specifically, 61 percent of pregnant women or new mothers saw disruption within resource accessibility.

A majority of 67 percent of respondents reported further disruptions in counseling services; 65 percent saw interruptions in access to harm reduction treatments. Another 45 percent also witnessed disruptions in treatments for opioid addictions.

Broader emergency medical interventions were also disrupted, but on a slightly smaller scale, with 35 percent of respondents seeing disruptions.

Interestingly, a large part of this newfound lack of access stems from not having work or school resources available due to widespread economic shutdowns, with about three quarters of respondents reporting a lack of availability.

Virtual solutions like telehealth have helped heal these interruptions, but face differing working conditions depending on socioeconomic factors. The survey found that over 80 percent of high-income countries said they issued telemedicine and teletherapy resources to help bridge gaps in mental health services, while less than half of low-income or developing countries reported deploying the same tools.

The availability of telemedicine resources underscores the broader socioeconomic inequalities laid bare by the pandemic.

Tedros advised that global leaders prioritize the investment in and deployment of resources, both in-person and virtual, to support good mental health in stressful times.

“COVID-19 has interrupted essential mental health services around the world just when they’re needed most,” he explained. “World leaders must move fast and decisively to invest more in life-saving mental health programmes — during the pandemic and beyond.”

Incentives for investing in mental health care are primarily financial; the WHO estimates that increased investments in mental health will see returns primarily in economic productivity that was previously lost by time off due to depression and anxiety.

The report also includes guidelines for how to allocate state resources to mental health support.


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Published on Oct 05, 2020