The right to mental health during COVID-19 pandemic

How has the pandemic impacted on this right?

In the Italian legal system, the right to health is enshrined in art. 32 of the Constitution and has to do with both physical and mental health. According to the Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO), "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity", so to say it concerns a state of general well-being which also includes the psychic aspect.

At the international level, several treaties rule this right, in particular in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  which establishes the right of every individual to a sufficient standard of living and to the achievement of well-being with regard to food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services; and art. 12.1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights according to which the countries that signed the agreement are required to recognize the right of each individual to enjoy the best conditions of physical and mental health that he is able to achieve.

A WHO survey conducted from June to August 2020 in 130 countries (of the six regions) shows how the pandemic has worsened the provision of mental health services. In fact, many countries have reported that they have suspended the provision of different types of mental health services: over 60% of the countries have reported interruptions in mental health services for vulnerable people including children, elders and teenagers; 67% of the countries reported interruptions in psychotherapy; 30% reported the interruption of access to drugs for mental disorders.

Finally, the survey shows that, although many countries have adopted telemedicine or tele-therapy to adapt to the new reality since the pandemic, in many of the low-income countries such practices are still out of reach. The WHO therefore highlighted the need for greater state-level funding for the implementation of services aimed at preserving mental health, reckoning that, as the pandemic progresses, it was (and still is) reasonable to believe that more and more people may need such services.

In Italia il Centro di Riferimento per le Scienze Comportamentali e la Salute mentale dell’Istituto Superiore della Sanità (ISS) è stato attivo nella partecipazione e nella conduzione di studi finalizzati ad analizzare l’impatto della pandemia di COVID-19 sulla salute mentale della popolazione. In tal senso il Centro ha partecipato a uno studio coordinato dal Dipartimento di Salute Mentale dell’Università “Luigi Vanvitelli” il cui obiettivo era valutare la presenza di sintomi dello spettro ansioso-depressivo, ossessivo-compulsivo e post-traumatico da stress. Su un campione di 20.720 partecipanti è emerso che durante il lockdown sono aumentati i livelli di ansia, depressione e sintomi legati allo stress, ed inoltre lo studio provava come la durata dell’esposizione al lockdown fosse positivamente correlata al rischio di presentare peggiori sintomi ansioso-depressivi.

In Italy, the Center of Reference for Behavioral Sciences and Mental Health of the Istituto Superiore della Sanità (ISS) has actively participated and studied the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of the population. In this matter, the Center participated in a study coordinated by the Department of Mental Health of the "Luigi Vanvitelli" University whose objective was to assess the presence of symptoms of the anxiety-depressive, obsessive-compulsive and post-traumatic stress spectrum. On a sample of 20,720 participants it was found that levels of anxiety, depression and stress-related symptoms increased during the lockdown, and the study also proved that the duration of exposure to lockdown was positively correlated to the risk of presenting worse anxiety-depression symptom.

Center has started a collaboration with the Ministry of Health in order to draft the Italian Health Equity Status Report with the coordination of the WHO Office in Venice whose main objective is to implement equity in health protection at national, local and regiona level creating the conditions to guarantee the population a prosperous and healthy life.

However, despite these initiatives show a concrete commitment -at a national level- in the implementation of policies aimed at supporting mental health, to date psychological support in Italy rarely enters people's lives. The population is not encouraged by public policies to take care of their mental health and in fact, in this sector, only 3.5% of the resources are invested for health (compared to other European countries where the percentage fluctuates from 10% to 15%).

Some studies have showed that there is a change in psychological distress and mental disorders in comparison to 40 years ago there : today the emerging disorders are less disabling than in the past but at the same time much more widespread (eating disorders, depression juvenile, anxiety disorders and ludopathy).

In this regard, in fact, the director general of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that "good mental health is absolutely essential for the health and general well-being of society" and since COVID-19 has interrupted essential health services worldwide, he called on world leaders to take rapid action to invest in mental health programs thus ensuring the right to health for every citizen.

Translated by Valeria Pasquali

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  • L'Autore

    Alice Stillone

    Alice Stillone è nata a Palermo il 14.06.1998, si è diplomata presso il Liceo Scientifico G. Galilei di Palermo, ha successivamente ottenuto una prima laurea triennale in “Sviluppo economico e Cooperazione Internazionale” presso l’Università degli studi di Palermo nell’ottobre 2019, ed al momento sta studiando per la laurea magistrale in “Relazioni Internazionali e Diplomazia”, presso l’Università degli studi di Padova.

    Entra a far parte di MI nel novembre 2020 ed, in particolare, nel team di redazione dell’area “Diritti Umani”.

    Far parte dell’associazione può essere una grande opportunità per la sua crescita personale e formativa, volta all’acquisizione di nuove conoscenze e alla condivisione di quelle già in suo possesso. Come obiettivi futuri, dà anzitutto priorità al conseguimento della laurea magistrale e, a seguito di ciò, ha intenzione di svolgere diverse esperienze lavorative che la possano indirizzare al meglio nel contesto lavorativo che più le si addice e che maggiormente l’appassiona. Gli studi svolti infatti le consentirebbero di opzionare vari contesti lavorativi tuttavia, ciò che al momento più le interessa è l’ambito delle organizzazioni internazionali attive nella salvaguardia dei diritti umani e del diritto umanitario, specialmente le agenzie specializzate delle Nazioni Unite.

    Alice Stillone was born in Palermo in 14.06.1998 and she studied there since the primary school. In particular, she obtained the degree at the Scientific High School G. Galilei and, in October 2019, she reached her first Graduation in “Economic Development and International Cooperation” at the University of Palermo. Then, she moved to Padua where she started to study “International Relations and Diplomacy”, and she is still studying for this.

    She entered the MI association in November 2020 and she asked for enter in “Diritti Umani” editorial staff because she had always been interested in human rights and generally in the international law.

    She thinks that enter this association could be a very exciting occasion to improve her personal knowledges and to share, with other members, what she has already known. First of all, she wants to obtain her second graduation and then she would like to have very different work experiences, this will lead her to choose her future work consciously. She would like to work in international organizations linked to human rights or humanitarian law and especially, her principal ambition is to enter some international organizations linked to the United Nations.


From the World Sections Human Rights Health & Wellness Society 2030 Agenda Health and Wellness


covid-19 OMS Lockdown right to mental healt

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