May 14 (UPI) -- The United Nations said Thursday that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed ongoing neglect of mental illness that countries need to address to avoid crisis.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed "decades of neglect and underinvestment in addressing people's mental health needs," the United Nations said Thursday in a statement.
Countries need to commit to addressing this "amid a potential global spike in suicides and drug abuse," the intergovernmental organization committed to maintaining international peace said Thursday.
The action plan included calling on governments to incorporate mental healthcare into the COVID-19 response strategies to address an increased risk of a mental health crisis during the pandemic.
Past economic crises have "increased the number of people with mental health issues, leading to higher rates of suicide," Devora Kestel, director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization, pointed out amid the current economic turmoil from the pandemic.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for action while releasing a U.N. policy brief Thursday on "COVID-19 And the Need for Action on Mental Health," the U.N. statement shows.
In particular, Guterres called on the international community to protect those most vulnerable to facing mental health crisis during the pandemic.
"Frontline healthcare workers, older people, adolescents and young people, those with pre-existing mental health conditions and those caught up in conflict and crisis," are most vulnerable, he said. "We must help them and stand by them."
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, depression and anxiety cost the global economy more than $1 trillion per year, according to the U.N. guidelines.
Depression and anxiety "are some of the greatest causes of misery in our world," Guterres said in a video message. "This suffering is often exacerbated by stigma and discrimination."