Why a High-Level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated a strong impact on the mental health of populations throughout the Region, increasing the need for care, while affecting health services, including mental health, and highlighting pre-existing weaknesses, both in terms of funding and resources, to meet the needs of people living with mental health conditions.
To strengthen mental health care and promotion and prevention services, it is necessary that mental health be a priority in the reconstruction of social and health systems, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The High-Level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19 has been convened by the Director of PAHO to guide the actions of authorities, public and private institutions, civil society organizations, community leaders, and international organizations, and to achieve the political will for financing, community mobilization and social change in mental health.


Who is part of the Commission?

The Commission is made up of members of health, social and political organisations with experience in decision-making and service management, including experts from academia, representatives of civil society and people with lived experiences.
The President of the Commission is Epsy Campbell Barr, former Vice President of Costa Rica, and the Co-Chair is Néstor Méndez, Assistant Secretary of the Organization of American States.


What is the Commission's task?

The task of the High-Level Commission on Mental Health is to develop guidelines and recommendations to significantly advance mental health care, prevention, and promotion in the Region of the Americas. These recommendations will be made after a process of collective reflection and listening to experts and key actors from the countries of the Region. The Commission will also analyze local and regional best practices, as well as successful examples that can be replicated in the Region. The recommendations and guidance will be included in a final report.


What will the final report include?

The final report of the Commission will include recommendations that cover all sectors of society responsible for the mental health of populations in the countries of the Americas, taking into account different national contexts. These recommendations will be based on evidence, and on listening to various actors related to the issue of mental health. The recommendations of the final report will be practical, feasible for implementation and measurable. They will include the determinants of mental health in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, with an emphasis on the promotion of mental health and the prevention of mental illness.


What are the main areas that the Commission will work on?

The Commission will be divided into three working groups. The main areas to be worked on by the Commission are:

  • Political prioritization for the inclusion of mental health in all policies
  • Adequate Mental Health Financing
  • Mental health care and delivery
  • Mental health innovations
  • Social and economic determinant of mental health
  • Populations in need of special attention


Where can I find more information about the High-Level Commission on Mental Health?

PAHO/WHO has developed an open access Commission Platform (PLATFORM of PAHO's High-Level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19 | (paho.org). This platform includes key information about the Commission, Commissioners, Related Publications, and Events related to the work of the Commission, among other things.


How can I send my contributions, suggestions to the Commission?

Everyone can send their suggestions and contributions to the Commission on the various topics it is working on to the email mhcommision@paho.org


What are the main mental health problems in the Region that make an urgent response from the countries of the Region a priority?

Mental health conditions constitute a silent epidemic that has affected the Americas long before COVID-19, with depression and anxiety as two of the leading causes of disability. The Region also has the second highest level of alcohol consumption in the world. Recent studies on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have shown high rates of depression and anxiety, particularly among women, children, young people, people with pre-existing mental health conditions, health workers and people living in conditions of vulnerability.


Can we talk about a mental health opportunity in the context of the pandemic?

Yes, because in the face of the impacts of the pandemic on the mental health of populations, countries in the Region have implemented innovative approaches to address this situation, reduce gaps in services and reduce the stigmatization of mental health. For example, some countries have developed strategies such as telemental health, the expansion of psychosocial support in inter-institutional work, as well as the implementation of a community-based approach to mental health within the framework of Primary Health Care. So while the pandemic has accentuated some of the problems, it can be said that it has also created an opportunity to strengthen and improve mental health in the Region.