Mental health and Coronavirus | Remote therapy brings little healing for the mentally ill

Andrés Colao speaks from his own experience as a patient who has seen the COVID-19 pandemic cripple an already weak healthcare system. He is the spokesperson for AFESA, a Spanish charity of people with mental illness and their relatives. For those who had a disorder diagnosed before the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis has left them in limbo.

Jorge Daniel Castilla, who was undergoing treatment for a mental health condition, says “I have had a couple of calls since March, the last one was in June to ask how I was doing. My therapy has been left up in the air.”

“Before the pandemic, there were already many people confined to their home, their sofa,
their bed, their room, and their minds” | Andrés Colao, spokesperson for a Spanish charity related to mental health, stares through a window | Marta Martín Heres

The crisis has been especially difficult for people seeking psychiatric and psychological services. “There are patients who have suffered a lot,” Colao says.

COVID-19 has caused a tsunami in mental health. During the first wave, 93% of countries surveyed by the World Health Organization (WHO) suffered paralysis in one or more services for patients with mental, neurological and substance abuse problems. Almost 40% of participating European countries reported worse conditions: they had stopped three out of four health services. “The stricter the lockdown, the more severe the impact,” says Marcin Rodzinka, spokesperson for Mental Health Europe, a network of mental health service users and professionals. This happened in Spain, for example, which shut its mental health outpatient centres.

In the most serious cases, people admitted to hospital have had an even more dramatic experience, according to Montse Aguilera, who works for the rights of people who, like her, have a mental health diagnosis. Those with severe mental disorders are generally more isolated and vulnera…

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