The World Health Organization chief and two of his top team members issued a mental health warning Friday as he said the planet must prepare for mass mental trauma affecting communities for years to come resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“As the world may remember…after the Second World War, the world experienced mass trauma because the Second World War affected many, many lives,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus at a biweekly press webinar on the novel coronavirus.

He said that with the pandemic having a colossal magnitude, almost the whole world is affected with “and every individual” is impacted.

“That means mass trauma, which is beyond proportion, even bigger than what the world experienced after the Second World War,” said Tedros.

“Countries have to see it as such and prepare for that, and the WHO will support in any way possible to address mental health… which is the mass trauma.”

Mike Ryan, head of the health body’s emergencies program, said that beyond the impacts of COVID-19 on people and families, there is the mental health strain of not seeing families in the hospital.

There is “the terror and the tragedy associated with that mental stress that frontline workers and health workers have been under in communities, and so many others.”

“We need to measure the mental health impact and understand truly what’s happening.”

He noted: “It just becomes unethical to continue to call something out as an issue, but not be focused on solutions for people and communities.

“In the work that we do in humanitarian settings, mental health and psychosocial support, it is a huge part of humanitarian intervention.”

Ryan said if individuals and communities are not physically and mentally healthy, it is tough to absorb an epidemic’s strain and stress.

“There is one thing this virus seems to love, and that’s the despondency and incapacitation of our ability or willingness to stop the virus, and sometimes wonder whether it is that impact that is the most profound,” said Ryan.

He said mental health and psychosocial support must be central to all recovery plans and must be costed into those plans.

Maria Van Kerkhove, one of WHO’s leading infectious diseases experts, said there must be a lot more emphasis by governments, communities, families, and individuals to look “at our well-being.”

She offered some personal advice, “For anyone out there, who’s feeling the pressure of this, and all of us are feeling that too; if you need help, please reach out.

“And those of you who have friends and loved ones who you know are struggling, also reach out to them every day, you know, you should make a phone call, make a connection with individuals to reach out and make sure people are okay.”

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