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WHO’s Mental Health Considerations During COVID-19 Outbreak

11th March, 2020

Claire Farrow



Recognising the impact that the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak may have on mental health, the World Health Organisation has published mental health considerations as support for mental and psychological wellbeing during the COVID-19 outbreak.

These include specific advice for health-care workers, caretakers of children or older adults and people in isolation. They are also relevant for employers who want to help their colleagues to stay informed.

The guidelines were released on 6 March 2020. They advise people not to attach the coronavirus to any ethnicity or nationality stressing: “Be empathetic to those who got affected, in and from any country, those with the disease have not done anything wrong.”

According to the guide, people should not refer to those with the disease as “COVID-19 cases” or “victims.” Instead, WHO recommends using terms such as “people who have COVID-19” or “people who are being treated for COVID-19.”

The mental health guide also advises people to avoid consuming news that makes them feel anxious or distressed and to focus on positive stories and concrete facts rather than rumours. It reminds us that assisting others in their time of need can benefit the person receiving support as well as the helper.

Health-care workers

For health-care workers, WHO recommends managing job-related stress through positive coping methods such as physical activity and staying connected with friends and family.

However, the guide says that some health workers may experience avoidance by their loved ones or community because of stigma or fear. In this scenario, the organisation advises workers to maintain contact with friends and family through digital methods and to rely on work colleagues for social support.

Caring for children

When it comes to caring for children, WHO reminds us that during times of stress and crisis, children are more likely to seek attachment and be demanding on their parents.

The mental health guide advises speaking to children about the virus in an age-appropriate manner and keeping them close to their family. It recommends allowing children to express emotions through creative activities such as playing and drawing and suggests families should stick to their daily routines as much as possible, especially when in confinement.

Supporting older adults

Regarding older adults, WHO says that they can become more anxious, angry and agitated because of the outbreak, especially if they are in isolation or have cognitive decline/dementia.

The organisation’s mental health guide advises caretakers to explain the outbreak and how to reduce risk of infection in a clear, respectful and patient manner.

WHO also suggests that caretakers can provide information to older people through writing or pictures and by helping them practice virus prevention measures such as hand washing.

Tips for people in isolation

For those in isolation, the mental health considerations include tips on staying connected to people by email, social media, videoconferencing and phone. It also recommends sticking to a daily routine and engaging in healthy, relaxing activities.

The full document detailing the WHO’s considerations can be accessed here. It also includes links to the WHO website where you can get facts about the outbreak at regular intervals.

The document also includes useful links to tips on managing your stress, as well as how to provide basic emotional and practical support to those affected using psychological first aid.




Claire Farrow

Claire Farrow is the Global Director of Content and Programming for the Mad World and Make a Difference Summits. She also drives the content for Mad World News. Claire is on a mission to help every employer – large, medium and small – get the insight, inspiration and contacts they need to make real impact on workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing in their organisation. She has been freelance for more than 15 years. During that time, she has had the honour of working with many leading publishers, including the New York Times.

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