The Need To Strengthen Mental Health Programs In Post-pandemic Times

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Mental health is vital to human well-being. Still, it is often neglected or overlooked in many parts of the world. Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or suicide, can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, culture, or socioeconomic status. However, many people who need mental health care do not receive it due to various barriers and challenges.

The pandemic has exacerbated the situation by creating unprecedented stress, fear, isolation, and uncertainty for millions. Grief therapy can help individuals cope with the emotional aftermath of the pandemic. Grief counselors can provide support and guidance, offering practical strategies for managing stress and helping individuals to process their grief.The pandemic has also disrupted mental health services delivery and access, especially for vulnerable groups such as frontline workers, older adults, people with chronic conditions, refugees, and people living in poverty. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health support demand has increased during the pandemic. In addition, resources and capacity have decreased.

Therefore, it is crucial to strengthen mental health programs in a post-pandemic world to ensure everyone can enjoy their right to mental health and live a fulfilling life. Mental health programs aim to promote, protect, or restore mental health for individuals, groups, or populations. Mental health programs can involve therapy, counseling, lifestyle changes, medications such as antidepressants or cyclobenzaprine, and support from family and friends. They can be delivered in various settings, such as schools, workplaces, health facilities, or communities. They can also target different aspects of mental health, such as prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, or advocacy.

Some of the challenges and barriers that hinder mental health programs’ implementation and scaling up are:

Lack of funding

Mental health is often underfunded and under-prioritized in many countries. According to the WHO, global mental health spending is less than 2% of the total health budget. Moreover, most of the funding is allocated to specialized services that are often inaccessible or unaffordable for many people who need them. Increasing and diversifying funding sources for mental health programs, such as government budgets, donors, insurance schemes, or private sector partnerships, is necessary.

Lack of human resources

A global shortage of trained and qualified mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, or social workers. For instance, in the United States, there is only one psychiatrist for every 10,000 people, while in low-income countries, there may be only one for every one million people.

According to the WHO, there are only 9.1 mental health workers per 100 000 population worldwide, with significant variations across regions and countries. Expanding and retaining the mental health workforce is necessary by providing adequate training, supervision, incentives, and career opportunities.

Lack of political commitment

Mental health is often stigmatized and marginalized in many societies and cultures. Many people with mental health problems face discrimination, exclusion, or violence daily.

Many policymakers and decision-makers lack awareness and understanding of mental health issues and their impact on individuals and societies. There is a need to raise the political profile and visibility of mental health by engaging with leaders, advocates, the media, and civil society organizations.

Lack of evidence-based guidelines

Mental health programs need to be based on scientific evidence and best practices relevant and appropriate for different contexts and populations. However, many mental health programs lack rigorous evaluation and monitoring of effectiveness, efficiency, quality, and equity. There is a need to develop and disseminate evidence-based guidelines and tools for mental health programs by conducting research, synthesizing knowledge, and sharing lessons learned.

Some of the strategies and actions that can help strengthen mental health programs in a post-pandemic world are:

Integrate mental health into primary care

Primary care is the first contact point for most people seeking health care. Integrating mental health into primary care can help improve access and utilization of mental health services for people who need them. It can also help reduce the stigma and discrimination against seeking specialized care. Moreover, it can contribute to addressing the physical and mental comorbidities often affecting people with psychological disorders. For instance, effective screening and early intervention of depression in primary care settings can reduce the risk of developing chronic medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease.