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Health survey: Countries are falling short in implementing mental health services during COVID-19 pandemic

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Posted: Thursday, November 5, 2020. 5:50 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and World Health Organization (WHO) are calling on members to step up implementation of mental health services at this critical time, after findings that a majority of mental health programs as part of COVID-19 plans are not adequately funded. Additionally, data from six countries show increased worries about COVID-19 by health care workers.

PAHO Assistant Director, Jarbas Barbosa said in today’s weekly press briefing, “Data from 29 countries show that while 27 of them have integrated mental health into their COVID-19 plans, only two are adequately funded.”

Among health care workers in Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Peru, Mexico and Venezuela studied by the COVID-19 HEROES cohort study between the University of Chile and Columbia University, found the following, according to Dr Barbosa: “One in five health workers is experiencing symptoms of depression. In Chile, nearly one in ten has suicidal thoughts. Over 75% of health workers are concerned about getting COVID-19 and virtually all are worried about infecting their loved ones.”

Dr. Barbosa maintains that mental health must be on the agenda as studies have shown that “the pandemic has increased the level of stress for many in our region, and some of us are battling anxiety and depression.” Meanwhile, countries have not sufficiently staffed mental health programs, keeping care out of reach.

“Individuals living with mental health and substance abuse disorders need reliable care and support, especially now,” he said.

“Community-based mental health services, that are integrated into primary health care, are a pillar of mental health services and vital to ensuring that no one gets left behind. Support should be provided where it is needed the most: close to the community,” Barbosa told journalists at the briefing.

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