Global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by an alarming 25% during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, as per a World Health Organization (WHO) brief released earlier in March.

The brief noted that the increase in anxiety and depression could be attributed to multiple stress factors, with unprecedented levels of social isolation being one of the predominant ones.

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“Loneliness, fear of infection, suffering and death for oneself and for loved ones, grief after bereavement and financial worries have also all been cited as stressors leading to anxiety and depression. Among health workers, exhaustion has been a major trigger for suicidal thinking,” the WHO brief further said, highlighting the stress factors that led to increase in global anxiety and depression.

In terms of the distribution of the mental health impacts of the pandemic, the WHO, using estimates from the latest Global Burden of Disease study, noted that young people and women had been the most adversely affected in terms of mental health.

“… [T]he pandemic has affected the mental health of young people and … they are disproportionally at risk of suicidal and self-harming behaviours. It also indicates that women have been more severely impacted than men and that people with pre-existing physical health conditions, such as asthma, cancer and heart disease, were more likely to develop symptoms of mental disorders,” the brief said.

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The WHO went on to add that the pandemic had led to “severe disruptions” in mental health services across the world, and had also highlighted gaps in care that had thus far not been noticed.

Given the global deterioration in the mental health of people around the world, the WHO urged countries across the world to not only commit to improving mental health services, but also urged an increase in global investment in mental health.