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Roadmap to strengthen global mental health systems to tackle the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Pallab K. Maulik, Graham Thornicroft, Shekhar Saxena

Original languageEnglish
Article number57
JournalInternational Journal of Mental Health Systems
Issue number1
Published29 Jul 2020

King's Authors


Background: The COVID pandemic has been devastating for not only its direct impact on lives, physical health, socio-economic status of individuals, but also for its impact on mental health. Some individuals are affected psychologically more severely and will need additional care. However, the current health system is so fragmented and focused on caring for those infected that management of mental illness has been neglected. An integrated approach is needed to strengthen the health system, service providers and research to not only manage the current mental health problems related to COVID but develop robust strategies to overcome more long-term impact of the pandemic. A series of recommendations are outlined in this paper to help policy makers, service providers and other stakeholders, and research and research funders to strengthen existing mental health systems, develop new ones, and at the same time advance research to mitigate the mental health impact of COVID19. The recommendations refer to low, middle and high resource settings as capabilities vary greatly between countries and within countries. Discussion: The recommendations for policy makers are focused on strengthening leadership and governance, finance mechanisms, and developing programme and policies that especially include the most vulnerable populations. Service provision should focus on accessible and equitable evidence-based community care models commensurate with the existing mental health capacity to deliver care, train existing primary care staff to cater to increased mental health needs, implement prevention and promotion programmes tailored to local needs, and support civil societies and employers to address the increased burden of mental illness. Researchers and research funders should focus on research to develop robust information systems that can be enhanced further by linking with other data sources to run predictive models using artificial intelligence, understand neurobiological mechanisms and community-based interventions to address the pandemic driven mental health problems in an integrated manner and use innovative digital solutions. Conclusion: Urgent action is needed to strengthen mental health system in all settings. The recommendations outlined can be used as a guide to develop these further or identify new ones in relation to local needs.

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