EU warns of 'tsunami' of mental health needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic
Toni Waterman in Brussels
Kyriakides said children and healthcare workers are vulnerable to mental ill-health. /Reuters

Kyriakides said children and healthcare workers are vulnerable to mental ill-health. /Reuters


European Commissioner of Health Stella Kyriakides warned of a "tsunami" of mental health needs in the coming months and years, as the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic starts to surface.  

"Experts are warning that there is a tsunami of mental health needs coming when COVID-19 recedes," Kyriakides said at a high-level event kicking off European Mental Health Week. "This should certainly alert us and highlight that we need to put mental health front and center in our response." 

Kyriakides said the Commission aims to provide the necessary tools to reinforce and rebuild the health system, with a focus on vulnerable groups such as children, healthcare workers and women.  

"Mental health matters across policies... first and foremost," she said. 

Experts say periods of extended lockdown, school closures and limited social interaction over the past year-and-a-half have exacerbated an existing problem, citing evidence of higher rates of stress, anxiety and depression. Disruption to health care services for those with pre-existing mental health conditions also added to the negative impact.  

"It's important to realize that mental health was already a very important issue before," said Pim Cuijpers, a professor of clinical psychology at Free University Amsterdam.  

He said 16 percent of the population in Europe, or about 150 million people, suffered from a mental disorder before the pandemic hit. 

Cuijpers, who is also director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Dissemination of Psychological Interventions, said that while the pandemic's full impact on mental health is not yet clear, experts do know there has been a big increase in risk factors, with older adults, first responders, migrants, children and women the most vulnerable populations.  

"I think that the pandemic has made clear to everyone that we're all fragile, that we're all capable of getting a disorder sometime in the future," said Cuijpers during the conference.  

To address the challenges, experts called for a holistic approach to identifying and treating mental health needs, including targeted actions in schools and additional support for health professionals. They said awareness of mental health disorders also needed to be increased.  

"A silver lining of the current situation is the opportunity to forge a new pathway for mental health promotion, protection and care in Europe by placing mental health at the heart of the recovery agenda," said Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe. "Let us grasp that opportunity and nudge that action forward together.

Search Trends