Depression, anxiety rose 25% in first year of COVID-19 – WHO

A new mental health report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has shown that depression and anxiety went up by more than 25 per cent in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic alone.

The report, which was published by the WHO Friday, “provides a blueprint for governments, academics, health professionals, civil societies and others, with an ambition to support the world in transforming mental health.”

According to the global body, in 2019, nearly a billion people including 14 per cent of the world’s adolescents were living with a mental disorder.

The report noted that suicide accounted for more than one in 100 deaths and that 58 per cent of the suicides occurred before age 50.

It further said the people with severe mental health conditions die on average 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population, mostly due to preventable physical diseases.

It added that the estimate includes people living with schizophrenia, depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorders, eating disorders and other mental disorders.

It further noted that the prevalence of mental disorders varies with sex and age. “In both males and females, anxiety disorders and depressive disorders are the two most common mental disorders.”

The report also said anxiety disorders become prevalent at an earlier age than depressive disorders, noting that the latter before 10 years of age. “They continue to become more common in later life, with the highest estimates in people between 50 and 69.”

In his comment, the WHO director-general, Tedros Ghebreyesus said, “Everyone’s life touches someone with a mental health condition. Good mental health translates to good physical health and this new report makes a compelling case for change.

“The inextricable links between mental health and public health, human rights and socio-economic development mean that transforming policy and practice in mental health can deliver real, substantive benefits for individuals, communities and countries everywhere. Investment into mental health is an investment into a better life and future for all.”

Depression, anxiety in times of COVID-19

The report noted that after adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic, the initial estimates of 193 million people increased to 246 million (3,153 cases per 100,000 population) for major depressive disorder, while for anxiety disorder it jumped from 298 million people to 374 million (4,802 per 100 000 population).

This data represents an increase of 28 and 26 per cent for major depressive and anxiety disorders, respectively, in just one year.

It added that in both cases, the countries that were hard hit by the pandemic had the greatest increases in disorder prevalence, with a greater increase among females than males globally.

“Globally there was also a greater change in prevalence among younger age groups than older ones, potentially reflecting the deep impact of school closures and social restrictions on youth mental health,” the report added.

Prevalence in males, females

Explaining further, the report stated that depressive and anxiety disorders are about 50 per cent more common among women than men throughout the life course, while men are said to more likely to have a substance use disorder.

It added that mental disorders are common among pregnant women and women who have just given birth, often with severe impacts on both mothers and babies.

It said globally, more than 10 per cent of pregnant women and women who have just given birth experience depression, which it estimated to be substantially higher in low and middle income countries (LMICs).

The report said; “Women who have experienced intimate partner violence or sexual violence are particularly vulnerable to developing a mental health condition, with significant associations found between victimisation and depression, anxiety, stress conditions including post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), and suicidal ideation.

“Women living with a severe mental disorder are much more likely to have experienced domestic and sexual violence during their life than other women.”

On how suicide accounts for more than one in every 100 deaths globally, it added that women are more likely to attempt suicide than men, “and yet twice as many men die by suicide than women do.”

“In 2019, it was the third leading cause of death in 15–29-year-old females; and the fourth leading cause of death in males in this age group. Overall, it is the fourth leading cause of death among 15–29-year-olds and accounts for some 8 per cent of all deaths in this age group,” the report stated.

Economic consequences

On the economic consequences of mental health, WHO noted that mental health conditions come with a variety of indirect costs associated with reduced economic productivity, higher rates of unemployment and other economic impacts.

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“Researchers from the World Economic Forum calculated that a broadly defined set of mental health conditions cost the world economy approximately US$ 2.5 trillion in 2010, combining lost economic productivity (US$ 1.7 trillion) and direct costs of care (US$ 0.8 trillion).

“This total cost was projected to rise to US$ 6 trillion by 2030 alongside increased social costs. That’s more than the researchers projected for the costs of cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease combined. LMICs were predicted to bear 35 per cent of the cost of these mental health conditions,” the report said.

Gaps in mental health

The WHO also highlighted the key gaps that show mental health systems all over the world continue to be marked by major gaps in governance, resources, services, information and technologies for mental health.

On information gap, it noted that most countries report incomplete data to WHO but these are often incomplete.  Most research is basic rather than clinical or applied.

While on governance gap, there are inadequate policies, plans and laws, with 21 per cent of countries implementing policies and plans that fully comply with human rights instruments, adding that it s misplace priorities when two out of every three dollars spent on mental health goes to running psychiatric hospitals.

Also on the resource and services gap, the report noted that countries spend on average just 2 per cent of their health budget on mental health and in low-income countries, there is fewer than one mental health worker per 100 000 population, while 71 per cent of people with psychosis do not receive mental health services.

Recommendation for action

The report made several recommendations for action, which are grouped into three ‘paths to transformation’ that focus on shifting attitudes toward mental health, addressing risks to mental health and strengthening systems of care for mental health.

It recommended an increase in investments for mental health, “not just by securing appropriate funds and human resources across health and other sectors to meet mental health needs, but also through committed leadership, pursuing evidence-based policies and practice, and establishing robust information and monitoring systems.”

Also, it added that there is a need to intensify engagement across sectors, including understanding the social and structural determinants of mental health and intervening in ways that reduce risks, build resilience and dismantle barriers that stop people with mental health conditions from participating fully in society.

It also suggested the diversification and scaling up of care options for common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

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