International online audience sees experts discuss fears and solutions surrounding mental wellbeing during lockdown – and beyond.
COVID-19 has left mental health services at a “crossroads” that could either lead to greater awareness and more community-based care, or see them being overlooked with serious long-term consequences, experts have told a special online edition of Qatar Foundation’s Education City Speaker Series in collaboration with the World Innovation Summit for Health.
The event, Global Perspectives: Mental Health in a COVID-19 World, saw speakers from Qatar, the US, Europe, and Africa focus on the strain that the pandemic – and the lockdown of nations that it has led to – is placing on people’s mental wellbeing, the risks this poses for individuals and societies now and into the future, and the support that needs to be provided to those struggling to cope.
Leaving aside the psychological consequences of this crisis will store up financial and health consequences, potentially for years to come.
Among them was Paul Farmer, Chief Executive Officer of UK-based mental health charity Mind, who said: “The optimist in me says that, for the first time, populations are beginning to understand what it means to have their mental health seriously challenged – this crisis brings mental health closer to people, and that hopefully means citizens and governments start to take it more seriously.
“However, if there is greater pressure on health systems with regard to physical health issues, mental health can become more marginalized. There are likely to be huge financial and economic pressures on countries, and the focus then becomes a debate between physical health and the economy. It would be a grave mistake for countries to take that approach.
“Leaving aside the psychological consequences of this crisis will store up financial and health consequences, potentially for years to come. This is a real crossroads moment in understanding how the progress made in recent years about raising mental health awareness will be converted by governments and populations, as we enter an extremely risky phase for the mental health of our communities.”
We have to take this opportunity to build back better, making sure mental health services are available for those who need them, and moving from institutionalized care to community care.
Dr. Dévora Kestel, Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, World Health Organization, told the webinar: “We have to take this opportunity to build back better, making sure mental health services are available for those who need them, and moving from institutionalized care to community care.
“We need to increase the volume of advocacy for the inclusion of mental health in any COVID-19 recovery plan, building mental health systems and avenues of care for people even in places where they were previously not available. There are more conversations generally about the impact that COVID-19 is having on people’s mental health, but it is not enough – we need to make changes that ensure support is sustainable.”
According to Dr. Sharifa Al-Emadi, Executive Director of Doha International Family Institute – a Qatar Foundation member – the crisis may reduce the “stigma” surrounding mental health and seeking help, and also reinforce the importance of the family unit, as she said: “People are working from home at the same time as caring for their family, so parents have to understand their children, talk with them, and explain the reality of this situation to them.
“But, at the same time as giving time for their children, parents have to make time for themselves. And we must recognize that while we may be physically apart from each other, we can still communicate with and protect each other.”
This crisis has shown us that there is a need for greater awareness of the rights of people living with dementia, and that governments were vastly unprepared to deal with this.
Moderated by news presenter, journalist, and documentary-maker, the edition of the Education City Speaker Series also heard from Paola Barbarino, Chief Executive Officer of Alzheimer’s Disease International, who said: “This crisis has shown us that there is a need for greater awareness of the rights of people living with dementia, and that governments were vastly unprepared to deal with this, so it will give us the opportunity to bring the needs of this constituency of people to a higher level.
“However, it has also shown there has been great resilience, with people using technology to organize themselves along lines we never thought possible, such as to convene carers’ groups and provide support.”
There is no health without mental health, and healthcare systems will be undermined if it is not addressed.
Dr. Janice Cooper, Senior Project Advisor – Global Mental Health, The Carter Center, emphasized the need for mental health support to be provided to healthcare professionals, saying: “The impact on their mental health must be monitored – the virus affects us all.
“There is no health without mental health, and healthcare systems will be undermined if it is not addressed. We need to think about what we can do to prevent further mental health conditions, and for those with pre-existing conditions, we have to make sure their status improves rather than deteriorates. We must fortify the strengths in our systems, and address the weaknesses.”
And author and international public speaker Yasmin Mogahed told the discussion that people must “give themselves permission to feel what they are feeling” and “find purpose within what may seem like random chaos”.
“You can’t hire someone to keep coronavirus away from you,” she said. “It’s very humbling and humanizing, and is something we are all in together. It can be seen as a lack of connection, or an opportunity to actually connect more deeply with ourselves and our families – if we try to see it through a positive lens, it can help us with our own mental and psychological health.”