By Elizabeth Lui (ELED Year 3 student 2020-21)
Ever noticed the hashtag #MoveforMentalHealth popping up on your social media feed? The hashtag is a part of the Move for Mental Health challenge launched in 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with United for Global Mental Health and the World Federation for Mental Health to encourage people worldwide to support a global movement advocating for greater investment in mental health (WHO, UnitedGMH & WFMH, 2020). In the past years, there is an increasing recognition of the need to address mental health. More so, the global pandemic has drawn attention to the need to invest in mental health services as many public health services have been interrupted. For example, due to the closing of face-to-face services (World Health Organization. (“Substantial investment needed”, 2020). In the modern era of accelerated technological progress, innovation and advancement in technology might be the creative solution to catering for our psychological well-being with the present challenges.
During the global pandemic, a widespread disruption of mental health services was recorded, and countries have chosen the use of technology as a mitigation strategy. As in WHO’s report of a survey on the disruption of mental, neurological and substance use (MNS) services due to COVID-19, of the 130 countries over six regions, 93% reported disruption in one or more of their services for MNS disorders; Over 60% reported disruptions to mental health services for vulnerable groups, including children and adolescents (72%), older adults (70%), and women requiring antenatal or postnatal services (61%) (“The impact of COVID-19”, 2020). Hence, changes in approach to provide services were made such that people can have continued access to the provision of mental health services. One approach adopted by countries (some 70% of them) is the use of telemedicine or teletherapy to replace in-person consultations (“The impact of COVID-19”, 2020). Similar services are available in the market, where virtual therapy apps provide the platform for individuals to schedule their appointment with professional counsellors then contact them through calls, text, or video conferencing.
Apart from breaking geographical barriers and improving accessibility of mental health services, technology has led to the expansion in tools and services. Instead of therapists, self-help or digital format of psychological interventions are made available on the internet. For instance, WHO has launched a digital stress management guide, Doing What Matters in Times of Stress (2020) which provides simple exercises to help people cope with stress. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) has also created the IASC Guidance on Basic Psychosocial Skills- A Guide for COVID-19 Responders (2020) in collaboration with United Nations (UN) agencies which aims at equipping the essential workers responding to the pandemic with basic psychosocial skills. Out there are also meditation applications such as Headspace, Calm, and Buddhify which offer audios to help you better understand the practice of mindfulness.
Just as Dr Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the WHO once said, “without mental health there can be no true physical health” (Brock, 1951, pp. 4-5). Mental health is an issue of vital concern, especially in times of pandemic. While challenges are present, technology could be the solution to the increasing demand for psychosocial support and the disruption of access to services. As we continue to live through a global pandemic, changes are needed to meet with the demand for mental health services under the new norm, and greater investment in mental health is needed.
Brock, C. (1951). Outline for a study group on World Health and the survival of the human race: material drawn from articles and speeches (No. MH. 276.51). World Health Organization. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/330666.
Doing What Matters in Times of Stress: An Illustrated Guide. World Health Organization; 2020. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240003927. Accessed December 20, 2020.
IASC Guidance on Basic Psychosocial Skills- A Guide for COVID-19 Responders https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/iasc-reference-group-mental-health-and-psychosocial-support-emergency-settings/iasc-guidance-basic-psychosocial-skills-guide-covid-19-responders. Accessed December 24, 2020.
World Health Organization. (2020). The impact of COVID-19 on mental, neurological and substance use services: results of a rapid assessment. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/335838.
World Health Organization. (2020, May 14). Substantial investment needed to avert mental health crisis. https://www.who.int/news/item/14-05-2020-substantial-investment-needed-to-avert-mental-health-crisis
World Health Organization, United for Global Mental Health and the World Federation for Mental Health. (2020, October 7). Global challenge for movement on mental health kicks off as lack of investment in mental health leaves millions without access to services. https://www.who.int/news/item/07-10-2020-global-challenge-for-movement-on-mental-health-kicks-off-as-lack-of-investment-in-mental-health-leaves-millions-without-access-to-services