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Pandemic triggers 25% increase in global prevalence of anxiety, depression: WHO

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Mar 03, 2022 - 08:39 AM

GENEVA (AA) – The global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25% in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, with young people the worst hit, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

A WHO report highlights those most affected by the pandemic and found that people with more severe mental disorders, such as psychoses, and young people with mental disorders, are particularly at risk.

WHO said it includes estimates from the latest Global Burden of Disease study, which shows that the pandemic has affected the mental health of young people and that they are “disproportionally” at risk of suicidal and self-harming behaviors.

“The information we have now about the impact of COVID-19 on the world’s mental health is just the tip of the iceberg,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“This is a wake-up call to all countries to pay more attention to mental health and do a better job of supporting their populations’ mental health,” Tedros added.

The report also indicates that women have been more severely impacted than men.

People with pre-existing physical health conditions, such as asthma, cancer, and heart disease, were more likely to develop symptoms of mental disorders, it said.

The report summarizes the pandemic’s effect on the availability of mental health services and how this has changed during the pandemic.

Mental health conditions

Concerns about potential increases in mental health conditions had already prompted 90% of countries surveyed to include mental health and psychosocial support in their COVID-19 response plans, but significant gaps remain.

A major explanation for the increase is the unprecedented stress caused by the social isolation resulting from the pandemic.

Linked to this were constraints on people’s ability to work, seek support from loved ones and engage in their communities.

The information released came from a comprehensive review of existing evidence about the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and mental health services.

“Loneliness, fear of infection, suffering and death for oneself and for loved ones, grief after bereavement and financial worries have also all been cited as stressors leading to anxiety and depression,” according to WHO.

Exhaustion has been a significant trigger for suicidal thinking among health workers, it said.

WHO said data suggests that people with pre-existing mental disorders do not appear to be disproportionately vulnerable to the COVID-19 infection.

Yet, it added, when these people become infected, they are more likely to suffer hospitalization, severe illness, and death than people without mental disorders.

The data found that people with more severe mental disorders, such as psychoses, and young people with mental disorders are particularly at risk.

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