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Experts Call for COVID-19 Response to Include Mental Health Research

April 28, 2020

In light of the pandemic’s potential impact on individual and population mental health, as well as the virus’ potential effects on brain function, the international response to COVID-19 must include multidisciplinary mental health research, argues a position paper published online in The Lancet Psychiatry.

“This paper gives us a research roadmap to help protect our mental health at this incredibly difficult time and in the future,” said Matthew Hotopf, PhD, a professor at King’s College London in the United Kingdom and one of two dozen coauthors of the paper.

An immediate priority, according to the paper, is gathering high-quality data on the mental health ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the whole population and in vulnerable groups, such as frontline medical staff, older adults, and people with serious mental health conditions.

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The authors call for “moment to moment” monitoring of anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide and the rapid rollout of evidence-based mental health treatments and programs that can be delivered remotely.

“Knowing what is happening in real time will allow us to respond by designing more user-friendly and effective ways to promote good mental health while people are in their homes,” Dr. Hotopf said. “Above all, however, we want to stress that all new interventions must be informed by top-notch research to make sure they work.”

Research to understand resilience and how to build resilience in society is also necessary, according to the paper, as is the establishment of a database to monitor psychological and brain effects in patients with COVID-19. Research should also investigate if, and how, the virus impacts the central nervous system.

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“If we do nothing, we risk seeing an increase in mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, and a rise in problem behaviors such as alcohol and drug addiction, gambling, cyberbullying, or social consequences such as homelessness and relationship breakdown,” said Rory O’Connor, PhD, a professor at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. “The scale of this problem is too serious to ignore, both in terms of every human life that may be affected, and in terms of the wider impact on society.” 

“Despite this situation making some of us feel trapped, it shouldn’t make us feel powerless – we can make a difference if we act now,” Dr. O’Connor added. “We are calling on funding bodies, research institutes, and policy to act now to limit the impact the pandemic has on all our lives.”

—Jolynn Tumolo

References

Holmes EA, O’Connor RC, Perry VH, et al. Multidisciplinary research priorities for the COVID-19 pandemic: a call for action for mental health science. The Lancet Psychiatry. 2020 April 15;[Epub ahead of print].

Mental health and brain research must be a higher priority in global response to tackle COVID-19 pandemic [press release]. London, United Kingdom: The Academy of Medical Sciences; April 15, 2020.

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