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Push to boost mental health services in the wake of COVID-19

Posted: 2pm 25 Oct 2021

Researchers behind a world first study of the impact of COVID-19 on mental health hope it will spur health authorities to boost support services.

They say promoting mental wellbeing, improving treatment and targeting factors that contribute to poor mental health are the keys to helping the community recover from trauma linked to COVID-19.

The study, led by the son of Ferny Hills author Josie Santomauro, found depressive and anxiety disorders have increased by more than 25 per cent worldwide.

The ground-breaking research, led by Dr Damian Santomauro from the University of Queensland’s School of Public Health, is the first to assess global impacts of the pandemic on major depressive and anxiety disorders.

Conducted in conjunction with the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, the research quantifies the prevalence and burden of the disorders by age, gender, and location in 204 countries and territories in 2020.

Dr Santomauro says countries hit hardest by the pandemic in 2020 had the greatest rise in prevalence of the disorders.

“We estimated that cases of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders increased by 28 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively in 2020, with women affected more than men, and younger people affected more than older age groups,” Dr Santomauro says.

Links to lockdown

“Countries with high COVID-19 infection rates and major reductions in the movement of people – a consequence of measures such as lockdowns and school closures – were found to have the greatest increases in prevalence of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders.”

Other approaches to this research have generally focused on specific locations over a short window of time.

Dr Santomauro says mental health systems will need an urgent boost to cope with the significant increase in cases of major depressive and anxiety disorders.

“Support services should be improved by promoting mental wellbeing, targeting factors contributing to poor mental health that have been made worse by the pandemic and improving treatment for those who develop a mental disorder,” Dr Santomauro says.

“Even before the pandemic, mental healthcare systems in most countries have historically been under-resourced and disorganised in their service delivery – so meeting the added demand for mental health services due to COVID-19 will be challenging.”

Impact on women

Study co-author Dr Alize Ferrari says the study found the pandemic exacerbated many existing social inequalities that predispose people to developing mental disorders.

“Sadly, for numerous reasons, women are likely to be more affected by the social and economic consequences of the pandemic as they often carry the load when it comes to additional caring and household responsibilities,” Dr Ferrari says.

“Women are also more likely to be victims of domestic violence, which has increased at various stages of the pandemic.

“School closures and wider restrictions limiting young people’s ability to learn and interact with their peers, combined with the increased risk of unemployment, also meant young people were more heavily impacted by major depressive and anxiety disorders during the pandemic.”

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