Commissioners to prepare recommendations to accelerate action on mental health in the Region, following the devastating effects of the pandemic

Washington, DC, May 6, 2022 (PAHO) – Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), today launched the High Level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19 . The commission will prepare guidelines and recommendations to reduce the mental health impact caused by the pandemic and the resulting suffering in the population of the Region.

The commission’s work will focus on five key areas: recovering from the pandemic and promoting mental health as a priority; the mental health needs of vulnerable populations; integrating mental health into universal health coverage; funding; and promoting the prevention of mental health problems.

“We must seize the opportunity presented by the pandemic to address long-standing weaknesses in mental health services and strengthen them for the future,” said Dr Etienne, thanking the Commissioners for their work and commitment. “Now is the time to build better mental health in the Americas,” she said.

The High Level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19 is chaired by Epsy Campbell Barr, Vice President of Costa Rica, and co-chaired by Néstor Méndez, Deputy Director General of the Organization of American States (OAS). It is also made up of leaders from health organisations, civil society, academics and people with direct experience on the subject.

Commission chair says mental health and well-being of millions of people, especially women, have been “seriously affected” by the pandemic, lockdowns, school closures, telework and care to family members. Campbell Barr called for “urgently tackling mental health” and “taking action to prevent and respond to domestic violence, including mental health services for survivors”.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating effects, and many are expected to last for a long time. A scientific brief published by the WHO reports that the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% in the first year of the pandemic.

A PAHO analysis also noted that a third of people who suffered from COVID-19 in the Region had been diagnosed with a neurological or mental disorder, while another study conducted with the support of PAHO (COVID -19 HEalth caRe wOrkErs Study–HEROES) showed that in 2020, between 14.7% and 22% of healthcare workers in the Region had symptoms of depression.

Calling the work of the new Commission “timely, relevant and urgent”, Méndez of the OAS noted that “a comprehensive action plan for the recovery of COVID-19 must include the prioritization of mental health in a human rights perspective and taking into account the particular situation of women. He also said it was “an opportunity to effect a cultural shift that can move us away from stigma and lead us to more inclusive and open conversations to build better mental health systems again.” .

Countries in the Americas have made tremendous efforts to meet growing mental health needs during the pandemic. However, the historically low priority given to the issue – with insufficient funding and underqualified human resources – has hampered the ability to respond adequately.

Commissioners will prepare a report with key evidence-based recommendations to improve mental health in the Americas and transform mental health systems and services in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report is expected to be completed in the last quarter of 2022.

Note for media:

The commission is made up of Katija Khan, president-elect of the Caribbean Alliance of National Psychological Associations; Shekhar Saxena, Professor of Global Mental Health Practice at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health; Paulina del Río, president and co-founder of the José Ignacio Foundation in Chile; Juan Pablo Uribe, Global Director for Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank’s Global Financing Facility; and María Elena Medina-Mora, director of the Faculty of Psychology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Also on the Commission are Shirley J. Holloway, chair of the board of directors of the US National Alliance on Mental Illness; Sahar Vasquez, co-founder of Mind Health Connect, Belize; Paul Bolton, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Coordinator at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); Ana Cristina Mendoza, psychologist from Guatemala; Paulo Rossi Menezes, senior researcher at the University of São Paulo; Pamela Collins, director of the Global Mental Health Program at the University of Washington; Rubén Alvarado Muñoz, associate professor at the School of Public Health, University of Chile; and Mary Bartram, director of mental health and addictions at the Mental Health Commission of Canada.


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