The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the World Health Organization’s office for the Americas, launched a high-level commission this Friday (6th) to help countries address mental health problems in the region, exacerbated by Covid-19 pandemic.
“Faced with the current mental health crisis, the Pan American Health Organization has established a High-Level Commission on Mental Health and Covid-19 to provide crucial and urgent guidance to its Member States,” said PAHO Director Carissa Etienne , by videoconference.
The group, chaired by Epsy Campbell Barr, outgoing Vice President of Costa Rica, and co-chaired by Néstor Méndez, Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), is expected to prepare a report with key recommendations to improve the mental health in the Americas, which is expected to be completed in the last quarter of 2022.
“We have high expectations that the work of the Commission will advance mental health at the highest level of government, providing a catalyst for meaningful and lasting reform of services and care,” said Etienne.
According to PAHO data, the new coronavirus pandemic, declared in early 2020, had a devastating impact on the mental health of the population, with an increase in cases of stress, anxiety and depression, especially among women, young people and the most vulnerable. .
In addition to the problems generated by fear, losses, unemployment, social distancing and misinformation, there is a growing realization of the long-term mental and neurological consequences among those who have suffered from Covid-19.
And it comes as essential mental health medical services, already underfunded for a long time, are among the hardest hit by disruptions to medical care by the pandemic.
“Mental, neurological and substance use disorders and suicide account for more than a third of the total years lived with disability in the region,” said Anselm Hennis, director of noncommunicable diseases and mental health at PAHO.
But “nearly 90% of people in the Americas don’t get the treatment they need, particularly for acute psychosis,” he added.
Hennis highlighted that suicide remains “a major challenge” for the Americas, with around 95,000 deaths a year due to self-elimination, an increase of 17% since 2000. Among the countries with the highest suicide mortality rates are Guyana and Suriname, Uruguay, United States, Haiti, Canada and Cuba.
PAHO said the Commission will work in five key areas: recovery from the pandemic and promoting mental health as a priority; the mental health needs of vulnerable populations; the integration of mental health into universal health coverage; the financing; and the promotion and prevention of mental health conditions.
Among the members are specialists from Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the United States, Guatemala and Mexico.