PAHO: Region facing “mental health crisis”

PAHO: Region facing “mental health crisis”
Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Dr Carissa Etienne. (FILE PHOTO)

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Dr Carissa F. Etienne revealed today that the coronavirus pandemic has caused a mental health crisis in the region of the Americas.

During a weekly press briefing, Etienne called on countries in the Americas to implement swift measures to address the growing issue.

The Americas include countries in North America and South America, of which The Bahamas is apart of due to its geographical placing.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a mental health crisis in our region at a scale that we’ve never seen before,” she said.

“It’s, so to speak, a perfect storm in every country, as we see growing needs and reduced resources to address them.

“It is urgent that mental health support is considered a critical component of the pandemic response.

“…Mental health illness is a silent epidemic that has affected the Americas well before COVID-19.

“In our region, depression and anxiety are two of the leading causes of disability. We’re also home to the second-highest levels of alcohol consumption in the world. And emergencies can worsen these conditions.”

The PAHO director revealed that surveys from the United States, Brazil, and Mexico show that about half of adults are stressed and early data show many are coping by using drugs and alcohol.

She furthered that due to strict lockdown conditions across the region, mental health support may be increasingly out of reach – especially for COVID-19 positive patients and their caretakers

“Patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 don’t only experience physical symptoms, many also experience insomnia, difficulty to sleep, delirium, or even depression,” she said.

“Many persons are overwhelmed with the fear of developing severe illness, others are understandably worried about their lives. Initial research indicates that as much as a third of patients recovering from COVID-19 can have enduring changes in their mood, and suffer from anxiety or depression.”

Additionally, she indicated that doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers are also struggling after months of operating in crisis mode and are facing burnout, anxiety, and depression.

Cases in the Americas have reached almost 11.5 million and over 400,000 people in the Americas have died as a result of the pandemic.

Fifty-five percent of new reported cases globally were recorded in the Americas.

She noted that while the region only has approximately 13 percent of the world’s population, it has 64 percent of reported global deaths thus far.

“Currently, the biggest drivers of the case counts are the United States and Brazil, but we are now seeing an increasing trend in parts of the region that had remained stable for multiple weeks, such as the Caribbean,” she said.

“Even though a few locations have reported lower numbers after being hit hard, several countries are reinforcing public health measures in areas that are facing a rise in new infections, such as Peru, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago.”

The PAHO Director urged countries to expand and invest in mental health services, work to de-stigmatize mental health, and act with innovation.

“Everyone who needs mental health support should feel comfortable asking for help,” she added.

“No one should have to suffer alone and without professional support, especially now.”

About Sloan Smith Sloan has spent the past four years as a lead news writer immersed in the field, covering a range of investigative breaking news developments. She produces daily salient pieces on natural disasters, crime, politics, policy, human-interest, and socioeconomic realities.