Mental health, suicide prevention needs greater attention during pandemic: WHO

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New Delhi: With the COVID-19 pandemic still accelerating and impacting people in multiple ways, WHO today called upon countries in South-East Asia Region to pay greater attention to mental health and suicide prevention.

“Hitting lives and livelihoods, the pandemic is causing fear, anxiety, depression and stress among people. Social distancing, isolation and coping with perpetually evolving and changing information about the virus has both triggered and aggravated existing and pre-existing mental health conditions which need urgent attention,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region.

Stigma related to COVID-19 infection may also lead to feeling of isolation and depression, the Regional Director said, adding that another precipitating factor impacting mental health amidst COVID-19 could be domestic violence, which is reported to have increased during lockdowns imposed by almost all countries in the Region.

Early identification of mental health conditions, recognition of suicidal behaviours and appropriate management through a multi-sectoral approach is important, even as we continue to focus on arresting further spread of the pandemic, Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

Suicide claims almost 800,000 lives every year globally and is the leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29 years of age. Evidence shows that for each adult who dies of suicide there are more than 20 others attempting suicide.

The WHO South-East Asia Region accounts for 39% of global suicide mortality.

Though preventable, suicide a serious public health problem. Survivors of suicide attempts and their family often face stigma and discrimination in many formsThe impact of suicide on families, friends and communities is devastating and far-reaching.” the Regional Director said.

In these challenging times, we must work towards providing comprehensive, integrated and responsive mental health and social-care services in community-based settings, as outlined in the WHO South-East Asia Region’s Suicide Prevention Strategy.

As individual vulnerabilities and sociocultural factors differ between and within populations, the Regional Suicide Prevention Strategy guides countries on strategizing and planning for suicide prevention through a multi-sectoral public health approach.

“These initiatives are most needed today. Together we must work towards promoting mental health and preventing suicide,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.