The United Nations is warning that the world may experience a surge in “psychological distress” during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a report released Thursday and a policy briefing this week, U.N. health experts cautioned that a global mental health crisis is on the horizon as people deal with death, disease, isolation, poverty and anxiety amid the pandemic, according to Reuters.
The experts encouraged countries to put mental health issues “front and centre” of their coronavirus response efforts.
Devora Kestel, the director of the World Health Organization’s mental health department, discussed the report and policy guidance to reporters Thursday. She said that isolation, fear, uncertainty and economic troubles can all “cause psychological distress,” and an uptick in the number and severity of mental health cases worldwide is likely with these stressors.
“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, according to CNBC.
The report’s recommendations aim “to reduce immense suffering among hundreds of millions of people and mitigate long-term social and economic costs to society,” according to Reuters.
Kestel suggested that countries prioritize moving mental health care away from institutions to community services. The recommendations also include investing more in mental health care, which has been historically underfunded, giving “emergency mental health” treatments for front-line health workers and working with people who suffer from anxiety, depression, domestic violence and poverty.
Psychologists have said the pandemic has caused boosts in depression and anxiety in several countries. One study estimated 33 percent of people in Ethiopia were showing symptoms of depression, believed to be three times higher than the regular rate, according to CNBC.
Children, young people and health care workers are thought to be especially susceptible to mental distress during the pandemic.
The coronavirus has infected more than 4.3 million people worldwide, killing at least 298,392, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.