Mental health was already a concern for many Moroccans but the isolation and fear of the COVID-19 pandemic is making a bad situation worse.
Rabat – October 10 is World Mental Health Day, a day to reflect on the heavy toll of mental health issues for millions in Morocco, and billions around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a “massive scale-up” of funding for mental health services. Amid a global COVID-19 crisis, a focus on mental health is more important than ever, according to the WHO.
The WHO has launched a digital stress management guide through social media. The Whatsapp messenger application is being used to share a guide that is based on the principles of “Doing what matters in times of stress,” the WHO’s stress management guide. It provides self-help advice in several languages to help people cope with mental health issues in these tumultuous times.
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hosts the “Big Event for Mental Health” to raise awareness about the issue. Athletes and artists will feature in the virtual event, where they are asked to share their personal experiences with mental health issues.
Several national and international leaders are scheduled to speak during the event to urge for a reprioritization of mental health disorders within national healthcare structures. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and several others will speak on the need for quality mental health care in a time of unprecedented economic and societal uncertainty due to COVID-19.
COVID-19 and mental health
The impact of the COVID-19 crisis has seen mental health services disrupted at a time when they are most needed. Already in May, a study in Ethiopia reported a 3-fold increase in symptoms of depression compared to before the pandemic.
Healthcare workers are at particular risk of increasing mental health issues. Frontline healthcare workers in China found that roughly half of them reported depression, with 45% reporting anxiety and 34% of suffering from insomnia.
This global problem requires strong government action to prevent escalating rates of depression and suicide, according to the WHO. While previous World Mental Health Day’s focused on awareness on particular issues such as suicide prevention or workplace mental health, this year’s event is targetted directly at government decision-makers.
In a press release on August 27, the WHO stated that mental health is “one of the most neglected areas of public health.” Less than a quarter of people struggling with mental health in low and middle-income countries receive adequate treatment. With 75% of people struggling with mental health issues not receiving any treatment, however, governments are urged to rapidly scale-up this section of public health services.
Mental health in Morocco
The prevalence of mental health issues has been on the rise long before the COVID-19 crisis. In 2017, half of all Moroccans were estimated to suffer from mental or psychological disorders, according to the Ministry of health. In 2018, then-minister of health Anas Doukkali introduced an action plan following reports that 40% of Moroccans suffered from mental health disorders, 26% suffered from depression, and 1% had schizophrenia.
Mental health issues have a painful impact on society. In 2019, Morocco reported the highest rate of female suicide in North Africa, showing the gendered nature of the problem.
Yet mental health issues have proven hard to stop in today’s high-stress world. Amid rising rates of depression and suicide, the COVID-19 crisis has dealt a significant blow to efforts to reduce the impact of mental health.
The Lancet has shown that mental health is currently worsened by enforced lockdowns, the threat of infection, social isolation and economic uncertainty. “Many people who previously thought themselves unaffected by mental health issues have discovered that they, too, are vulnerable,” the scientific publication stated.
Depression, stress, and anxiety disorders are serious issues that require rapid and ambitious action before the consequences of a mental health crisis materialize. The WHO recommends that governments invest in mental health facilities to address this issue before the problem grows even further.