Mental Health for All: A Person-Centered Perspective

October 13th, 2020 | Viewpoint

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If there is one thing that COVID-19 has made clear, it is that reducing or eliminating in-person interaction has a negative effect on our moods and well-being. 2020 has been a harsh reminder of how integral mental health is to our well-being, and how important mental health care access is during times of crisis. 

Changes in routines exacerbate existing mental health issues, can disrupt mental health service access for those who need it most, and may increase vulnerability to social isolation, household violence, economic insecurity, and stress. According to a recent Lancet article, schools have been suspended in 188 countries, with 75% of countries surveyed by the WHO reporting schools being disrupted by COVID-19. This is challenging for youth with mental health needs, as these closures limit access to resources that are usually only available at school. A CDC study conducted in June 2020 found that 40% of adults in the United States were experiencing mental health and substance use challenges. More than 1 in 10 had seriously contemplated suicide, and nearly one-third reported anxiety and depression symptoms.

COVID-19 has affected everyone, but in particular, those of us who are economically or educationally disadvantaged, people of color, who are more likely to be in low-paying front-line jobs, and at higher risk of losing their jobs. It is important to note that individuals from these groups had poor access to physical and mental health services, even when they were available. 

We have been hearing these two wordsaccess and availabilitya lot more lately. There is a clear difference between them. Mental health and psychosocial services may be available in my community, and they may be excellent, but can I access them? Am I comfortable accessing them? Does my insurance cover them? Answering these questions while experiencing anxiety and depression can be an insurmountable challenge.  

The World Health Organization defines a person-centered approach as health systems and interventions that meet the needs of people (instead of diseases and health institutions), so that everyone gets the right care, at the right time, in the right place. On October 8, more than 200 people attended the WHO Mental Health Forum 2020 (via Zoom, of course). Speakers from Zimbabwe, Kenya, Pakistan, China, Thailand, Tunisia, and the U.S. talked about the consequences of COVID-19 on mental health and psychosocial services along the life cycle (from childhood to the elderly). Yet, as WHO reported, although 89% of countries integrated mental health into their COVID-19 response, only 17% of those countries have fully funded the mental health programs.

If we are to reach the goal of “mental health for all,” we must review existing public health programs and identify possible access points for mental health and psychosocial services and referrals. This will ultimately make our programs more person-centered. Mental health for all means the right services are available, when we need them, and in our communities. Especially in times of crisis.

Written by Melissa Sharer and Malia Duffy

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