Monday

6th Apr 2020

Coronavirus

WHO warning on lockdown mental health

  • Online consultations, particularly via video chat, can provide a feasible alternative to deliver psychological care and therapy during the pandemic (Photo: Ian Panelo)

The coronavirus crisis and the restrictive measures that many countries are taking to contain the outbreak can have a negative impact on people's mental health and well-being, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

"Isolation, physical distancing, the closure of schools and workplaces are challenges that affect us, and it is natural to feel stress, anxiety, fear and loneliness at this time," the director of the European branch of the WHO, Hans Kluge, said on Thursday (26 March).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

As more and more people are obliged to remain in home quarantine or isolation with possible or proven coronavirus infection, experts agree that it is important to consider the effects of this pandemic on the mental health of people - while providing psychological support for the general public.

"It is essential to address the public mental health of people during the following weeks," Kluge said.

"This is not going to be a sprint, but a marathon," he added, urging countries to prepare their medical services for the mental health of people.

According to behavioural psychologist Virgine De Vos, this crisis could generate symptoms of depression or lack of participation over the next weeks.

However, she believes that one of the biggest problems for people's mental wellbeing can be the shortage of testing and lack of diagnosis.

"A lot of people who have symptoms cannot be tested so they do not know if they have coronavirus or not. This [uncertainty] can have a very negative impact on people's mental health," Virgine De Vos said.

Meanwhile, the European Federation of Psychologists Association believes that online consultations, particularly via video chat, can provide a feasible alternative to deliver psychological care and therapy during this pandemic.

"Mental health should be part of the public health response to Covid-19," stressed the mental health expert from WHO Aiysha Malik, who believes that health workers and children are among the groups psychologically most-affected by this crisis.

Doctors at risk too

Besides the clinical pressure that medical professionals face every day at work, they are also considered to be a high-risk group. One-in-10 coronavirus cases registered in Europe are from this sector.

On Thursday, a dozen of European organisations representing health professionals urge countries to ensure adequate working conditions.

"Staff must have breaks and time off between shifts, to be able to carry on in what could be a long-term global crisis. Working in such conditions takes its toll on the psychological health of staff, so appropriate support services must also be put in place," they said in a statement.

The WHO recommends rotating shifts in the most stressful positions, increase communication between work teams, having a psychosocial team in hospitals and ensuring that frontline workers have extensive experience.

Additionally, the pandemic and the school closures can also negatively affect children's mental health as they may no longer have that sense of structure and stimulation that is provided by that environment, said Malik.

"Children are likely to be experiencing worry, anxiety and fear and this can include the hopes and fears that are very similar to the fears adults are experiencing: fear of dying, fear of their relatives dying, fear of what it means to receive medical treatments," she added.

However, according to De Vos, the attitude of the parents during the crisis is fundamental

"If the parents show that they are anxious that will have a negative impact on the children's behaviour," she said, adding that stress is something that children perceive very well.

The WHO announced that the agency is preparing a set of guidelines addressing children's mental wellbeing for youngsters aged four to 10 which will be soon released.

Additionally, Malik stressed that the stigmatisation of the virus is a "very concerning issue" because it can lead to discrimination.

"Don't stigmatise people that recovered from the virus and don't attribute the virus to concrete geography or ethnicity," Malik recommended, adding that fighting the coronavirus outbreak requires a collective effort.

Podcast

Coronavirus vs Democracy

Concern is growing that emergency powers deployed to control the coronavirus pandemic will be used to erode democracy and civil rights.

Analysis

How much will coronavirus hurt European democracy?

Crises, whether terrorism, migration or pandemics, do not mean that "everything goes," experts warn over the measures EU states introduced to fight the coronavirus. Health and democracy should not be seen as a binary choice.

Analysis

Coronavirus: What EU can and can't do

Legal limitations means the European Commission's role when it comes to tackling the Covid-19 pandemic is broadly limited to coordination and support. It is up to member states to work together.

EU depicts Africa's health system as a threat

After visiting European nationals first brought the virus to Africa, the European Union is now worried it could spread throughout the continent and bounce back to Europe.

Greenland watches ... and waits for virus

It would take relatively few seriously ill patients on Greenland, the world's largest island, to outrun the capacity of the nation's health services.

News in Brief

  1. Three arrested in deadly French 'terror' attack
  2. Greece quarantines two migrant camps
  3. UK premier Boris Johnson hospitalised with coronavirus
  4. Former Libyan rebel leader Jibril dies of corona
  5. EU waives customs duties, VAT on vital medical imports
  6. Air France-KLM seeks state-backed loans
  7. New ventilators for EU will take time, commission says
  8. Drugs firms managing to meet demand, EU says

Interview

How Europe coped with pandemic 100 years ago

The 1918 flu pandemic "was just another thing to put up with" for people numbed by World War One - but there were also parallels with today, a British academic says.

Romania: Inside the EU's worst healthcare system, as virus hits

The country's lack of investment in the medical system, widespread corruption, politically-appointed hospital managers and staff shortages (as droves of doctors and nurses left to work in other European countries), severely weakened Romania's ability to deal with an emergency.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. Coronabonds clash continues This WEEK
  2. EU depicts Africa's health system as a threat
  3. Greenland watches ... and waits for virus
  4. Coronavirus exposes lack of common data approach
  5. Virus recovery talks should ditch old taboos: EU's Vestager
  6. EU's 'Irini' Libya mission: Europe's Operation Cassandra
  7. Slovak army deployed to quarantine Roma settlements
  8. Lockdown: EU officials lobbied via WhatsApp and Skype

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us