Feeling stressed? WHO releases WhatsApp guide to help mental health

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A new World Health Organization guide designed to help individuals cope with stress is now available on WhatsApp.

With World Mental Health Day approaching on October 10, the WHO has rolled out a new campaign to tackle mental health issues amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The new mental health guide consists of five phases and1 can be accessed via WhatsApp by sending the word “breathe” to the WHO business account at +41 79 893 18 92. Those who sign up have the option to receive mental health reminders.

The coronavirus has disrupted or halted mental health services in 93 percent of countries worldwide, the WHO said. But the pandemic has also spurred demand.

The new auto-generated WhatsApp feature guides users through a series of breathing exercises designed to help individuals stay engaged and focused, calm down during stressful moments, and help individuals focus more on their own actions.

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Audio messages are also sent to guide users through the exercises.

Mental health services have been subject to “chronic underfunding” says the WHO, with countries allocating less than 2 percent of national health budgets to mental health. The new WhatsApp guides provide tips for staying mentally healthy to those who may not have access to mental health care.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused massive disruption across all sectors as hospitals have filled up and supply shortages were reported globally. Meanwhile, lockdowns implemented to slow the spread of coronavirus has led many to feel more isolated and has increased depression and a need for more counseling services.

“Good mental health is absolutely fundamental to overall health and well-being,” said the World Health Organization’s director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement.

“COVID-19 has interrupted essential mental health services around the world just when they’re needed most. World leaders must move fast and decisively to invest more in life-saving mental health programs ̶ during the pandemic and beyond,” he added.

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While many are feeling more alone, the most commonly disrupted services were therapy and counseling sessions, the WHO said in a new report.

“While 70 percent of countries reported trying to fill the gaps in care with telemedicine or virtual appointments, there’s a major break between rich and poor countries—while more than 80 percent of wealthy nations said they had adopted telemedicine, less than half of low-income countries could say the same,” Forbes wrote, citing the new WHO report.

And although nearly 90 percent of countries said their pandemic plans included emotional health support, only 17 percent said they could fully fund their programs.