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COVID-19: Mental Illness, a “Parallel Pandemic”

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated a “parallel epidemic” of deteriorating mental health, especially among young people. The World Health Organization (WHO) is establishing a new mental health coalition to help states address this problem.

“Mental illness is taking its toll, both on those who were already at risk, as well as on those who have never sought mental health support before,” Dr Hans Kluge, director of WHO Europe, told a press briefing on 28 January.

Currently, the world is facing a “pandemic paradox”, with on the one hand hope, generated by vaccines, and on the other, risks generated by variant forms of the virus.

“This paradox, where communities sense an end is in sight with the vaccine but, at the same time, are called to adhere to restrictive measures in the face of a new threat, is causing tension, angst, fatigue, and confusion. This is completely understandable in these circumstances”, said Dr.Hans Kluge, Regional Director of WHO Europe.

Half of young people suffer from depression and anxiety 

According to the International Labour Organization, half of young people aged 18 to 19 are subject to depression and anxiety – and up to 20 per cent of health care workers are suffering from anxiety and depression.

“Empowering health leadership, especially in times of crisis, is a priority for WHO Europe,” said Dr Kluge, who announced the creation of a “Coalition for Mental Health”.

“Let us not forget the lessons we have learned so harshly: opening and closing, locking-down and opening-up, rapidly, is a poor strategy”, he said.

“The introduction and gradual lifting of measures based on epidemiological criteria remains our best option to allow economies to survive and minimize collateral effects. Our approach must be measured, it must be restrained”, he added.

“To the millions of you in the 25 European countries that are currently in partial or full nationwide lockdown, whose freedom of movement is restricted, I am fully aware of the sacrifices you have made,” Dr. Kluge said.

Vaccination still too slow and not equitable  

According to WHO figures, 35 of the 53 countries in the European region have started vaccination campaigns, and 25 million doses have been administered. However, the persistence of high transmission rates and the emergence of worrying variants of COVID-19 have highlighted the urgency of the task of vaccinating priority groups.

“Growing expectations for science and development, production and equitable distribution of vaccines are not being met as quickly as we would all like,” noted Dr. Kluge.

To date, 700,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the European region. “Last week alone, the number of deaths continued to peak at a record high, with more than 38,000 new deaths reported,” said Dr Kluge.

 

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