Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

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Global Health Blogs with Professor Swahn

COVID-19 and a Mental Health Crisis

November 19, 2020 · 1 Comment · Mental Health

The National Institute of Mental Health defines mental illness as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder. “Any mental illness can vary in impact, ranging from no impairments to mild, moderate, and even severe impairment” (NIMH, 2019). Mental health is a term that has many different connotations. Most of the connotations associated with it throughout the years have been extremely negative. Not that long ago, people who suffered from any mental illness were sent to an asylum, hidden away from the world by their family, etc.  The negative stigma that surrounds mental illness has changed since the days of leaving people locked away in mental asylums, but it has not changed that much. People today are still not receiving the professional help they need, looked down upon, let go from jobs, lose friends and family’s support, etc. But more than anything else, people with mental illnesses need support from those who are trained to help them, and those who love and care for them. For many people all over the world, cost is a major barrier to receiving the help that they deserve and need. 

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, nearly one in five adults in the United States live with a mental illness (about 46.6 million in 2017). The prevalence of mental illness was higher in 2017 among women (22.2%) than men (NIMH, 2019). It was also found that young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 had the highest prevalence of mental illness (25.8%) compared to those of other ages (NIMH, 2019). Shown below is a graph of the prevalence of mental illness among the adults living in the United States. For more information on the National Institute of Mental Health and their data/resources, here is their website.  

Mental illness is not only a problem in high income countries. Many low and middle income countries have problems with mental illness that affect people in the same and different ways as those living in a high income country. A major problem in low and middle income countries is the lack of mental health workers or lack of access to a mental health worker. The WHO estimates that in low income countries, the rate of mental health workers can be as low as 2 per 100,000 population as compared to 70 per 100,000 in high income countries (WHO, 2018). In addition to mental health staffing issues, financial resources and the lack there of is another one the most common problems across low and middle income countries. The WHO states that “every US $1 invested in scaling up treatment for common mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety leads to a return of US $4 in better health and ability to work of the people”. One of the recent ways that has been used to combat this problem is through the use of technology in medicine such as telehealth and lay health workers and educators. Telehealth and lay health workers increase the area in which a mental health worker can serve. If someone can essentially “bring” the health care worker to a remote village but not actually have the mental health worker there, this could drastically change the way people are served. It has the potential to work well even with the usual flaws of technology. 

Another way in which the world has seen the flaws of technology recently is through the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has played not only a major role in the physical health of people around the world in 2020, but also the mental health of people around the world. People have basically had to move their whole lives online. From working from home every day, to cancelled plans and family time, to missing doctors appointments due to offices being closed. I can speak from experience that quarantine with or without being sick has an affect on your mental health. Here is an interesting video from the WHO on some ways that COVID-19 has affected mental health in the workplace and outside of the workplace. But COVID-19 has done more than create new mental health problems for people, it has also highlighted the old problems that have existed in the workplace for a long time. One of the big questions people are asking now is where do we go from here? The world of medicine has adapted to the coronavirus in ways such as the use of telehealth and limiting numbers of patients seen day to day. But how has the mental health world faired? There have been drastic increases in anxiety, fear, and grief with the coronavirus for many people throughout the world.  The National Institute of Mental Health has a webpage (see here) that contains some resources regarding mental health and the coronavirus. Thankfully, the views surrounding mental illness are beginning to change. And due to the perceptions of people surrounding mental illness changing, people are now more accepting of help and more likely to seek out help. Shown below is one of the resources from the National Institute of Mental Health.




  • National Institute of Mental Health. (2019). Mental Illness. Retrieved November 05, 2020, from
  • World Health Organization (WHO). (2018, October 31). Mental health: Massive scale-up of resources needed if global targets are to be met. Retrieved November 06, 2020, from


One Comment

  • ktroka1

    Something that left me thinking after reading the blog was one of the recent ways which have been used for tackling the lack of health care workers, which is Telehealth.
    I wonder if it’s adaptable to low and middle income countries in their community context. Can everyone have access to a computer and internet in order to take part on the Telehealth visit. Maybe it creates the opposite effect. You think you provided the service, but it was not effective, due to inability to access it, no one used it. Just some thought. Great post!

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