Need for support for people with COVID-linked mental health issues: Report

Need for support for people with COVID-linked mental health issues: Report

A report by World Government Summit has underlined the need for addressing mental health conditions including loneliness and post-traumatic stress disorder among health workers due to COVID-19. 

Compiled in partnership with consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the report titled "The Making Mental Wellbeing a National Priority: Actions to Build Resilience" was released on Monday revealing the heavy mental toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on health workers. 

During the pandemic, elderly people struggled with months of isolation, families were not allowed to attend funerals of their dear ones and youngsters missed out on school and university.

The report estimated that poor mental health is costing the global economy more than a trillion dollars a year due to loss in productivity.

"The global economy is conservatively losing a trillion US dollars in lost productivity each year due to mental ill-health. The pandemic has only accelerated this impact," said Hamish Clark, chief wellness officer at PwC Middle East.

The report further called on world governments to boost investment in public health support by 2025 in order to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on health workers. The report highlighted the moral duty of authorities to intervene and protect the health and wellbeing of all community members. 

“The impact of Covid-19 has taken many forms on mental health around the world. Health workers have fallen ill with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), elderly people were separated from their children, grandchildren felt lonely and depressed, and parents felt worried about losing their jobs while children lost their activities with their friends," the report added. 

Furthermore, governments and policymakers are recognising the need for taking serious steps to bring solutions and tools to reduce the negative impact of COVID-19 on mental health and embrace community well-being. 

Solutions can include limited social media use, which is seen as having a negative effect on mental health, particularly among young people.

Interestingly, the report lauded a recent change in the attitude of governments towards mental health in the Gulf region.

Regional improvements in mental healthcare

Young people are discussing issues related to mental health and asking for help. Last year, the UAE’s National Programme for Happiness and Wellbeing (NPHW) was organised by experts to provide mental health support to all residents in the country. The campaign also helped people in overcoming the psychological effect of the coronavirus.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia increased mental, social and psychological health support with the aim of helping citizens to deal with stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic. The support included a dedicated telehealth service providing access to therapists for people in need. 

Bahrain and other countries also introduced similar initiatives in line with advancements in remote services and technology.

“We highlight key recommendations for governments on how to break the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace and build resilient societies," Hamish Clark added.

A recent study conducted by workplace mental wellbeing platform Plumm highlighted the connection between mental and physical health.

The report identified three main mental health factors which had an intrinsic link to physical well-being: chronic stress, depression and burnout.

Prolonged chronic stress can result in physical effects including high blood pressure, clogging of arteries and brain changes. Such factors can further the impact on mental health with an increase in anxiety, depression and addiction.

Caileen Lubbe, a research psychologist who works with Plumm, said that it is important to address the root cause of problems, stressing the need to ensure the provision of the right treatment and solutions before the complications become serious. 

“Even taking five minutes a day to take a break in the workplace and focus on being mindful or pausing for some meditation is great for mental and physical health. Setting goals can be fantastic to boost positivity and energy, both mentally and physically," the psychologist said. 

The 2021 360° wellbeing study conducted by global healthcare provider Cigna also revealed a gap in mental health support in the UAE.

As per the research, 34 percent of UAE employees have reported lack of mental health support, while 39 percent said they wanted access to mental resilience training.

Even as health insurance is starting to cover mental healthcare, the gap continues to emerge. Several insurers are providing employee assistance programmes under which employers can pay about $30 (Dh110) a year for each employee as their mental health cover.

Connection between physical health and mental health

Depression can lead to several physical effects including fatigue, headaches, back pain, insomnia, heart disease and psychomotor activity changes. Such symptoms can significantly impact the longevity and quality of life of a person. Therefore, there is a need for effective treatment to overcome the challenges. 

According to Dr Mohanned Noor Elimam Abdallah, a specialist family physician at Abu Dhabi's Priory Wellbeing Centre, physical ill-health can have significant repercussions on a person's mental health.

“I would urge the public to be aware of the signs and symptoms of burnout, chronic stress and depression, in particular, all of which can lead to serious physical illnesses," the specialist said, welcoming the report for helping to raise awareness of mental health concerns caused by the pandemic. 

Dr Mohanned Noor suggested early consultation with a psychiatrist or family [doctor] as an effective solution to foster early management of the concerns before they emerge into serious health problems.

Meanwhile, the World Government Summit held in person at the Expo 2020 Dubai in March drew leaders from around the world to discuss important topics ranging from food security to energy supply.


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