Covid19 Pandemic Caused More “Mass Trauma” Than World War II: WHO
The mental trauma of the Covid19 pandemic exceeds that of the Second World War and is likely to last “for many years to come,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said last week. The statement echoes worrying mental health trends globally and is an attempt to grasp the intangible impact of the global health crisis.
“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 media briefing.
“And that means mass trauma, which is beyond proportion, even bigger than what the world experienced after the Second World War,” he added.
The pandemic presented a trauma unique in its momentum. Individuals have lost jobs, children haven’t been in school, people have been forced to stay at home, and millions have lost their loved ones to the virus. It has taken shape in tangible and intangible terms and continues to be molded depending on vaccine announcements, fear of a mutated virus and recurring lockdowns, restricted movements, and bleak economic outlooks.
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In May last year, the WHO had sounded the alarm bell in saying that the pandemic is sowing the seeds of a mental health crisis. Almost one year since the lockdown, psychological well-being has begun to show significant strain. The percentage of people reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety surged during the pandemic in the U.S. and U.K., and similar trends have been observed in other nations, including India.
As nations undertake plans to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic, the Director-General urged leaders to emphasize policies around mitigating mental health impact, too.
“Almost the whole world is affected, each and every individual on the surface of the world actually has been affected,” he noted, adding that “when there is mass trauma, it affects communities for many years to come.”
The coronavirus pandemic, which has been classified as a traumatic event, can lead to “mental morbidity symptoms” (the deterioration in psychological and physical well-being due to strained mental health) among anyone, according to a study published last year, titled “Emerging mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic: An Indian perspective.” This can exacerbate the symptoms of those who are already living with mental health disorders.
Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, noted that the world is still in the “acute” phase of the pandemic as the virus continues to ravage through communities. Considering that the mental health toll of this will be unprecedented, Kerkhove said “there needs to be a lot more emphasis by governments, by communities, by families, by individuals to look after our well-being.”
While there has been a global consensus around the debilitating impact on psychological well-being, experts are pushing to take this discussion a step forward and chart a roadmap for emotional recovery.
“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,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program.