New York, 13 May 2020
Mental health is at the core of our humanity.
It enables us to lead rich and fulfilling lives and to participate in our communities
But the COVID-19 virus is not only attacking our physical health; it is also increasing psychological suffering.
Grief at the loss of loved ones…
Shock at the loss of jobs…
Isolation and restrictions on movement…
Difficult family dynamics…
Uncertainty and fear for the future…
Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, are some of the greatest causes of misery in our world.
Throughout my life, and in my own family, I have been close to doctors and psychiatrists treating these conditions. As prime minister of my country, Portugal, and as High Commissioner for Refugees, I became acutely aware of the suffering they cause. This suffering is often exacerbated by stigma and discrimination, which is absolutely unacceptable.
After decades of neglect and underinvestment in mental health services, the COVID-19 pandemic is now hitting families and communities with additional mental stress.
Those most at risk are frontline healthcare workers, older people, adolescents and young people, those with pre-existing mental health conditions and those caught up in conflict and crisis.
We must help them and stand by them.
Even when the pandemic is brought under control, grief, anxiety and depression will continue to affect people and communities.
This is the background to the policy brief on COVID-19 and mental health that we are launching today.
Mental health services are an essential part of all government responses to COVID-19. They must be expanded and fully funded.
Policies must support and care for those affected by mental health conditions, and protect their human rights and dignity. Lockdowns and quarantines must not discriminate against those with poor mental health.
As we recover from the pandemic, we must shift more mental health services to the community, and make sure mental health is included in universal health coverage.
The United Nations is strongly committed to creating a world in which everyone, everywhere, has someone to turn to for psychological support.
I urge governments, civil society, health authorities and others to come together urgently to address the mental health dimension of this pandemic.
And I call on governments in particular to announce ambitious commitments on mental health at the upcoming World Health Assembly.