Experts warn of wave of mental health problems caused by pandemic

Miami, Jun 9 (efe-epa).- Mental health experts from Latin America and Spain are warning of the possibility that the Covid-19 pandemic could produce a wave of anxiety, depression, stress and suicides and they are urging specialists and the public to be vigilant for these effects so they can be treated in time.

The attention to this potential problem should be even greater for vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and front-line health workers in the stressful battle against Covid-19, the experts say.

These are the main conclusions reached at the virtual meeting attended by more than 1,000 health professionals from all the countries of the region convened by Janssen, Johnson & Johnson’s group of pharmaceutical companies, to discuss “Mental Health in Times of Pandemic.”

As Brazilian psychiatrist Humberto Correa emphasized, this is not the first time humanity has confronted a pandemic and had to deal with social isolation, but it is the first time that the situation has been worldwide for a period longer than 21 days.

Thus, it constitutes an “important challenge for the entire population: patients, health professionals and the community as a whole,” said Gabriela Kanevsky, the medical manager for Janssen Latin America in the Neurosciences area.

“We believe that it’s fundamental to understand its impact and the consequences in the area of mental health,” she said.

Also speaking at the meeting were psychiatrists Rodrigo Cordoba, of Colombia; Marcelo Cetkovich, of Argentina, and Pedro M. Sanchez Gomez, of Spain.

The participants discussed the main consequences that Covid-19 and the prolonged quarantine on worldwide mental health, particularly in Latin America.

Correa, a professor of psychiatry at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, questioned whether humanity is prepared for an “unprecedented” psychological impact due to “suffering from the disease, the deaths of relatives and friends, unemployment, the world economy, among other things.”

“All this brings with it states of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress problems and alcohol or other substance abuse. The perfect storm that experts are envisioning will be the next wave of the pandemic,” he said.

Correa urged governments, mental health professionals and society in general to prepare themselves for that “fourth wave” and to define strategies that will allow the effects of the pandemic to be mitigated, especially within vulnerable groups.

Meanwhile, Cordoba, the director of the psychiatry department at Rosario University and head of the CISNE Group’s Nervous Center Research Center, emphasized the importance of detecting depression and anxiety in the early stages.

“Preventing is asking. Early detection is the best alternative we have. If we (question people about their feelings), there’s no doubt we’d be able to significantly … prevent suicide,” he said.

Cetkovich, the medical director for the Institute for Cognitive Neurology (INECO), placed emphasis on the stress produced by the pandemic, “the negative effects of isolation, fear, financial worries and also the anguish created by fake news or news that frightens people.”

He said that health personnel on the front lines of the Covid-19 fight will suffer from post-traumatic stress and it’s “necessary to be attentive and prepare the public for this situation.”

Sanchez Gomez, meanwhile, with the psychiatric hospital in Alava and a professor at the Basque Country University, emphasized the obstacles in Spain to treating patients with major depression amid the quarantine.

“We practically had to reinvent ourselves and create new protocols for patients with mental health problems, like … using telemedicine, preventive hospitalization programs, providing advice to caregivers and relatives so they could act as co-therapists and even making home interventions,” he said.


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