One widespread consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic that we cannot afford to neglect is its toll on mental health. “The long-term social-emotional impact of this pandemic worries me as a parent and educator,” a respondent wrote in an ongoing Human Rights Watch survey on the pandemic’s impact on caregivers and students.
Students are struggling. “I’m overwhelmed and not being able to go out has made my anxiety a lot worse,” said a high school student in the United Arab Emirates.
“As they quarantined they got depressed and had less interest to study,” a man originally from Afghanistan said of children in his household.
Caregivers are overwhelmed. “I am so stressed right now,” wrote a mother in the United States, describing crushing work, parenting, and teaching responsibilities. “I cannot sustain this for much longer.”
Social isolation compounds challenges. A student in Indonesia described returning from university to her family due to the stress of being isolated by herself only to find caregiving responsibilities at home prevented her from studying.
People receiving mental health services before the pandemic may have been cut off. “It's impossible to do in-person therapy with the social worker and psychologist,” a mother wrote, explaining the impact on her child.
Changes at work are making people’s lives difficult. A food preparation worker in Germany wrote about the stress of constant disinfecting and trying to prevent people from gathering close to each other. “Teaching online is highly stressful,” one teacher wrote. “Stress has made us irritable and depressed.”
Women may be particularly affected. Globally, women do two and a half times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men, and 84 percent of lone-parent households are headed by women. “[A] single mother-only child situation is extremely hard on [the] mental health of both,” a lawyer in the United Kingdom wrote. Healthcare and social sector workers (70 percent of whom are women) may also be at heightened risk, as are people facing stigma and racist abuse.
Mental health services have long been underfunded and stigma prevents many people from seeking help. There is reason to hope the current crisis might help reduce stigma and increase use of telehealth services to deliver care.
Governments should act urgently to support people during the crisis by protecting and expanding existing mental health services, increasing outreach and public awareness, and expanding use of telehealth. Now is a chance to fix longstanding gaps and ensure access to quality services for everyone who needs it.