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Mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

Presented by
Prof. Emily Holmes, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden
ECNP 2020
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is not only noticeable at a societal level but also needs to be assessed on an individual level as it affects the mental and physical health of individuals. Thus, a multidisciplinary approach is required for the current situation, argues Prof. Emily Holmes (Karolinska Institutet, Sweden) [1].

Prof. Holmes introduced a position paper that she and her co-authors published in April 2020, which summarises the priorities that were developed together by an interdisciplinary group of 24 world-leading experts, including people who have experience with mental health issues [2]. One of the topics that Prof. Holmes brought forward was the actions and strategies developed by the group of experts in response to the effect of COVID-19 on mental health (see Table).

Table: Actions and strategies for mental health during COVID-19 [2]

Another important issue is the mental health consequences of the COVID-19 lockdown and social isolation for vulnerable groups and the way that these may be mitigated during the pandemic. There is no easy solution for this, as the acute or long-term consequences of the lockdown and social isolation on mental health are not yet known.

As a result of lockdown and isolation, some individuals may experience excess feelings of distress and impairment to social and occupational functioning. It may well be the case that the most vulnerable individuals may suffer the most from some of the measures taken to control the pandemic. Especially individuals who have existing mental health issues, including severe mental illness, might be particularly affected by relapse, disruptions to services, isolation, the possible exacerbation of symptoms in response to pandemic-related information and behaviours, and changes in mental health law.

Apart from a call-to-action that multidisciplinary mental health science research must be central to the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic, another priority is collecting high-quality data on the mental health and psychological effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across the whole population and in specific vulnerable groups, and on brain function, cognition, and mental health for patients with COVID-19 in all disease stages. “This is much needed to deliver interventions under pandemic conditions”, Prof. Holmes said. “We are all in this together. Let’s think about interventions to reduce the disparities, the mental health inequalities that are being expanded by the COVID-19 pandemic [1].”


  1. Holmes EA, et al. The COVID-19 pandemic: challenges, priorities, and opportunities for mental health science. CA.01. ECNP Congress 2020.
  2. Holmes EA, et al. Lancet Psychiatry. 2020;7(6):547-560.

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