Mental Health Task Force launched by social protection minister

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Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

A mental health task force has been established and by the Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo (Reform) and €17.85 million has been allocated to mental health services.

The Mental Health Task Force is made up of up experts from relevant government agencies and their primary task is to develop agile and effective support measures.

They will arrange the engagement of and communication with experts, service providers and NGOs; secure funding for these activities from the supplementary budget; draft proposals to mitigate the long-term effects of mental health problems, and advise the government.

The task force will also coordinate activities with the COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Board and will have an advisory panel of experts.

The supplementary budget allocation for mental health services was earmarked at€ 2.85 million, with another €15 million going to local governments for the provision of support services.

Riisalo said overall stress levels have increased during the crisis, younger people are suffering under growing pressures, families are juggling work and remote learning, elderly people living in social isolation, people who have lost their jobs and frontline workers, educators and the police are facing more pressure than ever.

She said, so far, mental health issues have not received adequate attention in Estonia.

"Admittedly, access to services has been poor for years; however, right now we must ensure that in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, immediate assistance is made available to larger numbers of people. Additionally, we must also be prepared to counter long-term effects resulting from fatigue," Riisalo said.

Anne Kleinberg, Chair of the Estonian Psychiatric Association, and Kirsti Akkermann, Associate Professor in Clinical Psychology at the University of Tartu, all agreed that stress responses to difficult situations related to the crisis is completely normal; however, a considerable number of people are also in dire need of mental health support and services.

"It is important to bear in mind that when we start to emerge from the crisis, those of us whose mental health took a greater blow will need quite a lot of assistance. The people who are hit the hardest will need extensive support later on," Akkermann said, while stressing the need for taking preventive action to mitigate the onset and spiralling of mental health problems.  

The Ministry of Social Affairs has compiled a list of support services and information about mental health with ERR News' has republished below.

Mental health and psychosocial support:

- For practical tips and links to mental health resources and online counselling, please visit: www.kriis.ee/et/vaimne-tervis-eriolukorra-ajal 

- For psychological first aid, also in English and in Russian, please call the National COVID-19 Helpline 1247.

Background Information:

- Mental health problems are on the rise. In 2020, previously healthy adults reported symptoms of depression, anxiety, and mental exhaustion at 2.5 to 3 times higher rates than in 2014. According to the University of Tartu stress study related to the impact of Covid-19 crisis (2020), 46 percent of people were at risk of developing depression.Studies conducted in other countries have yielded similar results.

- The stress management study conducted by the University of Tartu in 2020 demonstrated that the people who adopted several different coping mechanisms (e.g. meeting basic needs,  i.e. sleep, healthy food; spent time outdoors, engaged in their favourite pastime activities, found humour in everyday life, etc.), fared better in the crisis.

- The COVID-19 Monitoring Study commissioned by the Government Office in March 2021 confirmed the following: one-third of adults are experiencing high or extremely high levels of stress; at the beginning of March, people aged 25-34 (46 percent), and also young people aged 15-24 (36 percent), were most affected by high or extremely high stress levels. One of the primary reported stress factors is unemployment – 48 percent of people who are unemployed and looking for work are experiencing high or extremely high levels of stress.

- According to the World Health Organisation, the coming years will bring a significant increase in the demand for mental health and psychosocial support.

- From the mental health perspective, the most vulnerable groups are people with disabilities, people with mental disorders, people who are unemployed and financially struggling, families with children navigating remote learning, children with behavioural problems, seniors living in social isolation, victims of domestic violence.

Source: Expert Report by VATEK (Estonian Mental Health and Well-being Coalition).

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Editor: Helen Wright

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