Prepared by The Carter Center
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety, depression, grief, and substance abuse among populations worldwide. Meanwhile, critical mental health and disability services have been disrupted.
Recognizing that the need for mental health and substance use management will grow during and after the pandemic, the Carter Center’s Mental Health Program is pushing for mental health to be part of COVID-19 responses everywhere and is applying a COVID-19 lens across its work to strengthen behavioral health services and integrate mental health and substance use management into key health and development priorities. This holistic approach reinforces mental health as core to overall well-being and the need to invest in mental health across sectors.
In Georgia, the program works to reach vulnerable youth and families by expanding school-based behavioral health services and scaling up family supports. “We want to see more Certified Peer Specialists in schools and through mental health providers. These are parents who can share their experiences navigating the mental health system with other families,” says Dr. Eve Byrd, director of the Mental Health Program. Also, in Georgia and nationally, The Carter Center is pressing policymakers to enforce the federal 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which requires insurance companies to cover mental illnesses and addictions on par with physical illnesses. “If insurance pays for mental health and substance abuse treatment then there is a greater chance of getting the care one needs. A healthy population and workforce is good business for all,” Byrd says.
In Africa, the Program’s long-term work to strengthen mental health care in Liberia and prioritize mental health needs during the Ebola outbreak brought valuable lessons. Today, the Center’s mental health team is working to ensure mental health and psychosocial services are a standard part of managing COVID-19 cases. At the request of the Liberian government, the team and its local and international partners provide technical assistance to a deep network of mental health clinicians in outbreak counties, including contact tracing and mental health training and supervision for frontline workers.
An additional goal is to adapt tools developed for the Liberian COVID-19 response to the Center’s outreach in communities in Haiti, where it works to eliminate malaria and lymphatic filariasis. Such cross-programmatic initiatives are critical, not only to combat the spread of misinformation and stigma associated with COVID-19, but also to ensure that mental health support is readily available for the most marginalized living with NTDs and poor mental health.