The Covid-19 pandemic has caused mass trauma and on a larger scale than the second World War — the impact of which will last “for many years to come,” the World Health Organization’s top official said Friday.
“After the second World War, the world has experienced mass trauma, because second World War affected many, many lives. And now, even with this Covid pandemic, with bigger magnitude, more lives have been affected,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference Friday. “Almost the whole world is affected, each and every individual on the surface of the world actually has been affected.”
His comments came in response to a question about whether countries should take the pandemic’s impact on the economy and mental health into account more as they chart their paths forward. Tedros’ deputies emphasized that mental health ought to be prioritized.
“The answer is absolutely yes,” Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said. “There are variations in terms of the impact that this has had on individuals, whether you have lost a loved one, or a family member or friend to this virus. Whether you’ve lost your job, children who haven’t been in school, people who are forced to stay home in in very difficult situations.”
She added that the world is still in the “acute phase” of the pandemic, when the virus is tearing through communities, killing tens of thousands every week. She added, though, that the mental health toll of the pandemic will emerge as a major issue in the long-term, saying that “there needs to be a lot more emphasis by governments, by communities, by families, by individuals to look after our well-being.”
Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, urged people to not just highlight the mental health toll of the pandemic as a problem, but to also discuss solutions.
“It’s one thing to say that mental health is and psychological health is under pressure — that’s true — but also the opposite of that has to be what we’re doing to support and provide psychosocial support to people and communities,” he said.