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Recommendations of the report included better awareness of such issues in the workplaceImage: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Hoermann

WHO: COVID poses long-term mental health challenge

July 22, 2021

The pandemic's impact on mental health will be felt for a long time to come, according to a new WHO report. The agency said these issues should be addressed as openly as social and economic recovery.


WHO Europe Director Hans Kluge on Thursday urged member countries to work on alleviating some of the psychological stresses of the COVID pandemic.

Kluge was delivering opening remarks at a conference dedicated to a new report on mental health by the European office of the World Health Organization.

"People in the European region are literally breaking under the pressures of Covid-19 and its consequences," he said.

He added that placing mental health reformsat the heart of social and economic recovery and would require "a lot of courage and steadfastness."

What did the report say?

The pandemic took a psychological toll on Europeans, as the infection or fear of contracting it, as well as extensive periods of self-isolation, proved mentally damaging for many, the report warned.

It also found that people were troubled by worries about unemployment and financial health.

The mental health cost of coronavirus

The document made several recommendations to member countries, including promotion of culturally adapted, evidence-based intervention for mental health and psychological support through digital and other means. The WHO also called for more awareness in the workplace and financial support to those left without jobs.

The UN agency urged authorities to address the root causes of mental anxiety — including poverty or other socioeconomic inequalities. The issues of mental health should be addressed as openly as matters of social economic recovery, according to the UN health agency.

Will social distancing stick?

While the impact of COVID was concerning, it could also be looked at as an opportunity to implement mental health policies that provided individuals support, according to WHO experts.

"It's a chance no country can afford to let pass, if we want to rebuild better and stronger," Kluge said. 

How many people are affected?

Nearly 12% of the European population, or 110 million people, were affected by mental disorders in 2015, according to one of the latest reports  available on the issue.

Depression and anxiety are among the most common mental health issues in the region, with 44.3 million and 37.3 million affected.

Inclusion of substance disorders increased the numbers affected by 27 million, where inclusion of neurological disorders like dementia or epilepsy increased the total by more than 300 million, to 50% of the population.

Economic costs related to mental ill-health compounded more than 4% of GDP — or over 600 million euros ($707.8 million)  — across 28 countries in 2015,according to a study published in 2018. 

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