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Improving Mental Health Care Key To COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery, Says OECD

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp increase in mental ill-health issues, especially among the young, unemployed and those facing financial insecurity. Countries should provide adequate support to those affected, while urgently scaling up investment and quality of care to reduce the high social and economic costs of mental ill-health, according to a new OECD report.

A New Benchmark for Mental Health Sytems: Tackling the Social and Economic Costs of Mental Ill-Health says that mental health care has long been neglected and under-funded, and unmet need for care is still high in OECD countries.

Even before the onset of the pandemic, an estimated one in two people experienced a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime, and one in five were living with mental ill-health at any given time.

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, levels of mental distress have increased sharply, especially among young people, with prevalence of anxiety and depression even doubling in some countries.

Mental ill-health drives economic costs equal to more than 4.2% of GDP, some of which are the direct costs of treatment, but more than a third of which are related to lower employment rates and reduced productivity. These costs can be avoided, at least in part, according to the report.

OECD governments make person-centred care a priority in mental health strategies, but nearly 20% of people with a mental health condition reported they were not treated with courtesy and respect during a hospital stay. Only eight countries routinely collect information about people’s experiences of, and outcomes from, mental health care.

Availability of accessible and high-quality mental health services is improving, but 67% of people who wanted mental health care reported they had difficulties getting it. People with serious mental health conditions still have a much lower life expectancy than the population average.

A key part of good mental health system governance and leadership is acknowledgement of the issues, says the report. However, while the level of spending on mental health care has increased in OECD countries over the past decade, the share of total health spending dedicated to mental health has not increased and has even declined in some countries.

Countries are making their mental health systems more innovative and future-focused using new approaches to mental health support such as apps and telemedicine, but it is also essential to have a sustainable workforce and a strong data infrastructure to track and improve performance. In both these areas countries are falling short: 11 OECD countries have only one or fewer psychologists per 10 000 population, while all countries struggle to collect a complete set of mental health performance indicators.

Countries must invest more in developing stronger and more widely available data on the key dimensions of mental health performance to drive faster and more meaningful improvements, says the report.

Download the report

More information on OECD work on mental health is available here

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