Roadmap to strengthen global mental health systems to tackle the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

NEW DELHI, August 4. A new road map to strengthen global mental health systems to tackle the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has outlined the need for urgent action to strengthen mental health system in all settings. The recommendations for policy makers are focused on strengthening leadership and governance, finance mechanisms, and developing programme and policies that especially include the most vulnerable populations

In their new paper published in the International Journal of Mental Health Systems, Professor Pallab Maulik, Deputy Director and Director of Research , The George Institute India; Professor Shekhar Saxena, professor at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Distinguished Fellow with TGI, a global thought leader in menta health and Professor Sir Graham Thornicroft, Professor of Community Psychiatry at the Centre for Global Mental Health, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London argue that the COVID pandemic has been devastating for not only its direct impact on lives, physical health, socio-economic status of individuals, but also for its impact on mental health. Some individuals are affected psychologically more severely and will need additional care. All three authors have been involved extensively in the area of global mental health and have especially been involved in mental health systems strengthening, stigma reduction and enhancing mental health services delivery especially in disadvantaged communities, and the paper draws on their experiences and World Health Organization’s broader guidelines of “Building back better.”  

“However, the current health system is so fragmented and focused on caring for those infected that management of mental illness has been neglected. An integrated approach is needed to strengthen the health system, service provision and research to not only manage the current mental health problems related to COVID but develop robust strategies to overcome more long-term impact of the pandemic,” says Dr Maulik, and which is agreed by his co-authors.  

A series of recommendations are outlined in the paper to help policy makers, service providers and other stakeholders, and research and research funders to strengthen existing mental health systems, develop new ones, and at the same time advance research to mitigate the mental health impact of COVID19. The recommendations are stratified by low, middle and high resource settings as capabilities vary greatly between countries and within countries.

The authors argue that service provision should focus on accessible and equitable evidence-based community care models commensurate with the existing mental health capacity to deliver care, train existing primary care staff to cater to increased mental health needs, implement prevention and promotion programmes tailored to local needs, and support civil societies and employers to address the increased burden of mental illness.

The paper highlights that researchers and research funders should focus on research to develop robust information systems that can be enhanced further by linking with other data sources to run predictive models using artificial intelligence, understand neurobiological mechanisms and community-based interventions to address the pandemic driven mental health problems in an integrated manner and use innovative digital solutions.

“The recommendations outlined can be used as a guide to develop these further or identify new ones in relation to local needs,” said Dr Maulik.

Read full paper here.