During pandemic, mental health services disrupted as needs grow: WHO

Services for mentally ill and substance abuse patients have been disrupted worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the disease is expected to cause further distress for many, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.

Only 7% of the 130 countries responding to the WHO's survey reported that all mental health services were fully open, with 93% reporting curtailed services for various disorders, it said.

"We think that this is a forgotten aspect of COVID-19, in a sense part of the challenges that we face is that this is an under-funded area historically," Devora Kestel, director of WHO's Department of Mental Health and Substance Use, told a news briefing.

Only 17% of countries have ensured additional funding to implement activities supporting mental health during the pandemic, she said.

Many countries, especially low-income ones, maintained mental health services offered in general hospitals that remained open, but many patients faced other challenges, the WHO said in its first assessment.

Outpatient and community-based services, often in middle and high-income countries, were more affected, the WHO said.

But many wealthier countries made use of telemedicine and technologies to follow up on mental patients, it said.

"We see better coverage of alternative services in high-income countries and we need to make sure everybody has access to some kind of alternative," Kestel said.