Experts Say Coronavirus Outbreak Demands Swift Mental Health Response
Mental health care is urgently needed for patients and health care workers affected by coronavirus, wrote Yu-Tao Xiang, M.D., of the University of Macau in China and colleagues in an editorial published Tuesday in Lancet Psychiatry. The authors suggest that the lessons learned from the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak can guide the mental health response to coronavirus.
The outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus pneumonia (2019-nCoV) has garnered international attention and produced a wave of anxiety. Officials in China, where the outbreak originated, and elsewhere have enacted a range of measures to combat the spread of the virus. Yet, according to Xiang and colleagues, mental health care for patients affected by the virus and those caring for them have largely gone unaddressed.
“The observations of mental health consequences and measures taken during the 2003 SARS outbreak could help inform health authorities and the public to provide mental health interventions to those who are in need,” Xiang and colleagues wrote.
To meet the mental health needs of those affected by the 2019-nCoV outbreak, Xiang and colleagues recommend the following:
- Authorities should clearly and regularly communicate accurate updates about the 2019-nCoV outbreak to health workers and patients in order to address their sense of uncertainty and fear.
- Mental health workers should regularly screen suspected and diagnosed patients with 2019-nCoV pneumonia as well as health professionals caring for infected patients for depression, anxiety, and suicidality.
- Multidisciplinary mental health teams established by health authorities at regional and national levels (including psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, clinical psychologists, and other mental health workers) should deliver mental health support to patients and health workers.
- Secure services should be set up to provide psychological counseling using electronic devices and applications for affected patients, as well as their families and members of the public. Using such communication channels between patients and families should be encouraged to decrease isolation.
“In any biological disaster, themes of fear, uncertainty, and stigmatization are common and may act as barriers to appropriate medical and mental health interventions,” Xiang and colleagues wrote. “Based on experience from past serious novel pneumonia outbreaks globally and the psychosocial impact of viral epidemics, the development and implementation of mental health assessment, support, treatment, and services are crucial and pressing goals for the health response to the 2019-nCoV outbreak.”