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Mental Health Needs of Migrants and Displaced Persons Must Be Part of COVID-19 Response

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Geneva – Highlighting the deep impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the mental health of people worldwide, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) calls for pro-active measures to be taken by governments worldwide to ensure that the mental health and psychosocial needs of migrants and displaced persons are taken into consideration in governments’ responses.

The call is in line with the launch yesterday by the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, of a policy brief titled COVID-19 and the Need for Action on Mental Health, which highlights the mental health consequences of the pandemic and urges governments, civil society, health authorities and others to invest in and prioritize mental health during the COVID-19 response and beyond.

Next week, the World Health Organization (WHO) will be holding its 73rd World Health Assembly, in which Member States and other stakeholders are due to discuss the impacts of COVID-19, IOM reiterates the importance of taking into consideration the mental health dimensions of the crisis, in particular the effects it has on migrants, displaced persons and other vulnerable groups.

“Everyone is affected by this pandemic,” said António Vitorino, IOM Director-General.

“The stresses of confinement, job loss, stigma and xenophobia certainly have an impact on mental health. Those most vulnerable including migrants, mobile populations, and seasonal workers, face a unique set of challenges. We must ensure everyone is included in our mental health response, especially during COVID-19.”

In the current global environment, migrants face specific stressors and, too often, many continue to have unequal access to health – let alone mental health – care. The most vulnerable, for example those who find themselves in irregular situations, might be forced to contend with poor housing or overcrowded conditions, as well as precarious, informal, or dangerous working situations. While some are working on the frontlines of the crisis, others may have lost their source of income, or found themselves quarantined in squalid situations. Lacking safety nets or support systems, sometimes far away from their families, many may have difficulties accessing reliable information, in a language that they can understand, on the disease and related services available. Those who do have information may be afraid to seek help for their symptoms due to fear of arrest or deportation.

Given all these realities that can lead to migrants being more vulnerable to mental and psychosocial issues, IOM advocates for government efforts to be migrant-inclusive, regardless of legal statuses, in order to ensure an equitable mental health response to COVID-19 and leave no one behind.

IOM supports the UN Secretary-General’s call for mental health actions to be considered essential components of national responses to COVID-19, including: reducing pandemic-related adversities known to harm mental health, developing psychosocially-aware communication strategies, offering mental health and psychosocial support in emergency situations, investing in remote mental health interventions, ensuring the continuation of in-person care for those with severe mental health conditions, and promoting participatory approaches.

In 72 countries, IOM is providing mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) to vulnerable migrants and displaced persons across its programmes, including through community-based approaches and capacity-building. In the COVID-19 context, IOM has adapted its MHPSS activities for example by offering e-counselling, providing remote support, promoting community cohesion, or extending its MHPSS services to quarantine or isolation facilities.

For more information please contact Yasmina Guerda, IOM Public Health Communications Officer at HQ, Tel: +41 79 363 17 99, Email: yguerda@iom.int

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