Staying Afloat in the Wake of a Pandemic: Mental Wellness and COVID-19

On October 8, 2020, Meridian hosted a virtual Diplocraft program with Dr. Amanda Clinton, Senior Director of the Office of Global Affairs at the American Psychological Association (APA), Dr. Peter Mills, Medical Director at CIGNA, and Taweel Tawil, Vice President of Sahouri Global Health. The conversation, moderated by Frank Justice, Vice President of the Meridian Center for Diplomatic Engagement, focused on understanding how the pandemic has negatively impacted global mental health and how to shape effective multilateral responses to meet the growing demand for quality mental health services. This program was held in partnership and with generous support from Sahouri Insurance.

Below are the top takeaways from the conversation:

  1. KEY FACTORS FOR MENTAL WELLNESS. Surveying 16,000 individuals across 10 countries, Cigna’s COVID-19 Global Impact Study found six key factors that influence mental well-being: physical health, work life, family relationships, genetics and environmental influences, financial stability, and social and societal bonds. These factors have become increasingly strained in the midst of the pandemic, with 83% of individuals now feeling “stressed” compared to 45-50% of individuals before COVID-19. In addition to high stress levels, 31% expressed that they were experiencing loneliness and 50% believed that COVID-19 would not go away and would remain a seasonal problem, highlighting how the lifestyle changes in the past few months hold far-reaching consequences for global mental health.
  2. INNOVATIVE ALLIANCES AND PARTNERSHIPS. National responses to COVID-19 regarding income and wage subsidies, contact tracing, distribution of hygiene products, food rations, information campaigns, and lockdowns play a direct role in shaping long-term mental health. Cross-sectoral alliances between the private sector, NGOs, governments, and related health organizations are essential to provide comprehensive care that meets individual needs. The Global Psychology Alliance (GPA) represents one key global response that has coordinated 64 national, regional, and international associations to better enhance their collective ability to discuss and collaborate on pressing global health issues
  3. THE RISE IN TELEHEALTH. Digital platforms are being used now more than ever, offering an unprecedented opportunity to connect with mental health professionals and access valuable services. From self-guided meditations to virtual therapy appointments, digital solutions can be a lower-cost alternative that allows for a more individualized approach. Making these practical tools more widespread will require developing stronger public-private partnerships that promote telehealth globally. Meridian will lead further discussion on this topic during this year’s Meridian Global Leadership Summit on the rise of global health diplomacy.
  4. NORMALIZING MENTAL WELLNESS IN THE WORKPLACE. Both Dr. Mills and Dr. Clinton emphasized the importance of organizational mental health awareness and encouraged employers to lead by example as models for healthy living and engage with staff to provide optimal support. Being flexible in scheduling, communicating expectations clearly, and respecting confidentiality all help to build trust and wellness even across cultural stigmas against directly addressing mental health. The APA has compiled resources found here for employers, psychologists, healthcare workers, and the general public which provide information on creating open dialogues and managing stress.
  5. CURRENT GAPS IN MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES. On average, there is one mental health professional for every 10,000 people in the world. In a study published by WHO in 2018, it was found that this rate can fall as low as two mental health workers for every 100,000 individuals, underscoring the importance of prioritizing mental health infrastructure globally. Dr. Clinton called on governments to begin investing more in mental health services that would prevent an increase in “deaths of despair” during and after the pandemic and to begin implementing low-cost community-based methods that would bridge gaps in access without creating an economic strain on national economies.

Meridian International Center is a non-partisan diplomacy center that strengthens U.S. engagement with the world and accelerates collaboration through the exchange of people, culture and ideas. The Meridian Center for Diplomatic Engagementhosts the regular series of Diplocraft programs for diplomats to hear from and interact with organizations and individuals on the front lines of political, social, security and economic issues in Washington and beyond. This series includes policy deep dives, peer networking opportunities and navigating Washington seminars.


Amanda Clinton Powerpoint

Peter Mills Powerpoint

Sahouri COVID-19 Resources

Cigna COVID-19 Global Impact Study

Mental Health for All: Harvard Medical School Free Online Course

Mental Health Free Online Course

Project summary

Staying Afloat in the Wake of a Pandemic: Mental Wellness and COVID-19 | October 2020
Number of Attendees: 16
Regions: Africa, Europe and Eurasia, East Asia and Pacific
Countries: Botswana, Japan, United Kingdom, United States
Impact Areas: Global Health
Program Areas: Diplomacy
Partners: Private Sector