Newsletter. Mental Health and Psychosocial (COVID-19) Outbreak

Newsletter No. 1 March 2020 Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Times of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak

08.01 2020

Overview of content:

The Right to Health and the Coronavirus Outbreak
UN torture prevention body advice on compulsory quarantine for Coronavirus
Mental Health and Psychosocial Considerations During COVID-19 Outbreak
Briefing note on addressing mental health and psychosocial aspects of COVID-19 Outbreak
Speaking of Psychology: Coronavirus Anxiety
Five Ways to View Coverage of the Coronavirus
Coping with stress during the 2019-nCOV outbreak
Myth busters
Social stigma associated with COVID-19
What can we say to children about Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
Helping children cope with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak
EPI-WIN: Updated and reliable information on the Coronavirus outbreak
Download the HHRI GBV manual


Dear friends and colleagues,

In March 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) made the assessment that the coronavirus (COVID-19) can be characterized as a pandemic. It is  now expected that all countries in the world will be  affected by the virus. International organizations, especially the WHO, and health authorities around the world are acting and taking measures to contain and respond to the outbreak. Even so, the coronavirus is creating stress and fear in populations.

For people’s mental health and well-being, it is pivotal that everyone has access to accurate information about the outbreak from reliable sources. Also, there are a number of measures that each and everyone of us should take both to limit the spread of the virus as well as to cope with this difficult situation on personal, inter-personal, community and societal levels. We also need to be reminded of the fundamental right to health and healthcare and its highly important implications for global and national responses to the coronavirus, as well as the total prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

During these times of crisis, it is of particular importance that we think about and have solidarity with people who were already in a vulnerable and unstable situation prior to the coronavirus outbreak. Refugees and asylum seekers, so-called illegal immigrants and stateless people, people living in detention, people with disabilities, and people with physical and/or mental illness, people living in poverty and extreme poverty, and other marginalized people, are in urgent need of appropriate healthcare and adequate preventive measures. The current situation is exigent for the most vulnerable amongst us. You will receive some further information on this issue in due course.

Below, we have gathered some information on the right to health, advice on legal safeguards in the context of compulsory quarantine, as well as on how to take care of yourself, your loved ones – including your children, and your community during the coronavirus outbreak. We have also included a link to the resource database EPI-WIN from the WHO where you can get the latest information about the coronavirus outbreak from reliable sources. The information in this newsletter comes from the World Health Organization, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, the American Psychological Association, the Clinic for Crisis Psychology in Bergen, Norway, and the HHRI team.We hope that you will find the information useful and reassuring. Please circulate it with family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

Information and advice

The Right to Health and the Coronavirus Outbreak World Health Organization, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

First of all, we need to be reminded of the fundamental human right to health, meaning that every human being has the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. As stated by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “the right to health means that everyone should have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without suffering financial hardship. No one should get sick and die just because they are poor, or because they cannot access the health services they need”.During the Coronavirus outbreak, it is especially important that we are reminded of this fundamental right. Key aspects of the right to health that are particularly important during the Coronavirus outbreak include:

  • The right to a system of health protection providing equality of opportunity for everyone to enjoy the highest attainable level of health
  • The right to prevention, treatment and control of diseases
  • Access to essential medicines
  • The provision of health-related education and information
  • Health services, goods and facilities must be provided to all without any discrimination. Non-discrimination is a key principle in human rights and is crucial to the enjoyment of the right to the highest attainable standard of health
  • All services, goods and facilities must be available, accessible, acceptable and of good quality

As Dr. Ghebreyesus reminds us, one of the central principles of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is that no one is left behind. Responses to the coronavirus should under no circumstance discriminate between people. A rights-based approach to health requires that health policy and programs in general, and those directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak, must prioritize the needs of those furthest behind first. As stated by the WHO Director-General, “When people are marginalized or face stigma or discrimination, their physical and mental health suffers. (…) We must all work together to combat inequalities and discriminatory practices so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of good health, no matter their age, sex, race, religion, health status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or migration status.”

UN torture prevention body advice on compulsory quarantine for Coronavirus
The UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT), Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

During its meeting in Geneva, the SPT adopted guidelines, requested by the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, on compulsory quarantine for COVID-19. This advice states that whilst quarantines are for the public benefit, they must not result in the ill-treatment of those detained, that all fundamental safeguards are respected when they are imposed and that national preventive mechanisms have a role to play in their monitoring. The statement by the OHCHR can be accessed here.

In the SPT guidelines, that can be accessed here, it is further stated the following: “In addition, sufficient and appropriate measures should be put in place in order to prevent violations of the prohibition of ill-treatment. Such violations can include (or flow from) discriminatory practices and actions which have the effect of stigmatising or marginalising particular groups of persons. This may include those individuals and groups who are considered to be at risk of, or being potential carriers of, viruses.”

Mental Health and Psychosocial Considerations During COVID-19 Outbreak
World Health Organization, 12 March 2020
WHO and public health authorities around the world are acting to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. However, this time of crisis is generating stress in the population. These mental health considerations were developed by the WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Use as messages targeting different groups to support for mental and psychosocial well-being during COVID-19 outbreak. Follow the link below for detailed advice for

  • the general population
  • healthcare workers
  • team leaders or managers in health facility
  • care providers for children
  • older adults, care providers and people with underlying health conditions
  • people in isolation

You can access the full list of recommendations here.

Minimize watching, reading or listening to news that causes you to feel anxious or distressed; seek information only from trusted sources and mainly to take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and loved ones. Seek information updates at specific times during the day, once or twice.

During times of stress, pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in healthy activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly, keep regular sleep routines and eat healthy food. Keep things in perspective. Public health agencies and experts in all countries are working on the outbreak to ensure the availability of the best care to those affected.

Protect yourself and be supportive to others. Assisting others in their time of need can benefit the person receiving support as well as the helper. For example, check-in by phone on neighbors or people in your community who may need some extra assistance. Working together as one community can help to create solidarity in addressing Covid-19 together.

Find opportunities to amplify positive and hopeful stories and positive images of local people who have experienced COVID-19. For example, stories of people who have recovered or who have supported a loved one and are willing to share their experience.

Briefing note on addressing mental health and psychosocial aspects of COVID-19 Outbreak Version 1.1
Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC)

This briefing note summarizes key mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) considerations in relation to the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The brief was last updated February 2020.
The briefing note includes information on the following topics:

  • Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) and the intervention pyramid
  • Mental health and psychosocial responses to COVID-19
  • Overarching principles for an MHPSS response to COVID-19
  • Globally recommended activities
  • INTERVENTION 1: Helping older adults cope with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak
  • INTERVENTION 2: Supporting the needs of people with disabilities during a COVID-19 outbreak
  • INTERVENTION 3: Messages & activities for helping children deal with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak
  • INTERVENTION 4: MHPSS activities for adults in isolation/quarantine
  • INTERVENTION 5: Supporting people working in the COVID-19 response
  • INTERVENTION 6: Community MHPSS messages during the COVID-19 outbreak

You can access the full briefing note here.

Speaking of Psychology: Coronavirus Anxiety – Bonus Episode
American Psychological Association
Fear about the coronavirus has gripped the world. While nearly all cases have been in China, that has not stopped people in other countries from worrying. This new illness certainly is frightening and needs attention, but it’s important to note that far more people die from an illness that’s all too familiar — the seasonal flu. Why are we so afraid of this novel coronavirus when we are much more likely to catch the flu? Our guest, Baruch Fischhoff, PhD, is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and an expert on public perception of risk and human judgment and decision-making. He explains why we worry about new risks more than familiar ones, how to calm our anxiety and what are the psychological effects of being quarantined. Listen to the episode here.

Five Ways to View Coverage of the Coronavirus
American Psychological Association, Updated March 2020
Tips: New reports about COVID-19 are becoming more widespread and are making some people anxious. Here are some tips to help you manage your anxiety, put news reports in perspective and maintain a positive outlook.

  1. Keep things in perspective. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that most people who contract COVID-19 will only experience mild symptoms. Work is being done to help people who may be more vulnerable to the coronavirus, such as senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions. The fact that coverage is increasing on this issue does not necessarily mean that it presents an increased threat to you or your family.
  2. Get the facts. It is helpful to adopt a more analytical approach as you follow news reports about the coronavirus. You will also want to verify information that you receive from family, friends or social media. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a webpage dedicated to information on the coronavirus outbreak. You may also find useful, reputable information from local or state public health agencies or even your family physician.
  3. Communicate with your children. Discuss the news coverage of the coronavirus with honest and age-appropriate information. Parents can also help allay distress by focusing children on routines and schedules. Remember that children will observe your behaviors and emotions for cues on how to manage their own feelings during this time. You may want to limit how much media they consume to help keep their anxiety in check.
  4. Keep connected. Maintaining social networks can foster a sense of normality and provide valuable outlets for sharing feelings and relieving stress. You can maintain these connections without increasing your risk of getting the virus by talking on the phone, texting or chatting with people on social media platforms. Feel free to share useful information you find on government websites with your friends and family. It will help them deal with their own anxiety.
  5. Seek additional help. Individuals who feel an overwhelming nervousness, a lingering sadness, or other prolonged reactions that adversely affect their job performance or interpersonal relationships should consult with a trained and experienced mental health professional. Psychologists and other appropriate mental health providers can help people deal with extreme stress. These professionals work with individuals to help them find constructive ways to manage adversity.

Coping with stress during the 2019-nCOV outbreak
World Health Organization
Information sheet on how to cope with stress during the Coronavirus outbreak from WHO. It can be accessed here. We recommend printing the sheet if you are able to and keep it somewhere where you see it regularly and are reminded of these concrete steps that you can take to limit stress.

Myth busters
World Health Organization
Not everything you hear about coronavirus (COVID-19) is true, seek advice and information from trusted sources as myths and rumors can be damaging to public health. Here are the answers to some of the common ‘myths’ or questions about coronavirus (COVID-19). You can find the information on myths here.

Social Stigma associated with COVID-19
World Health Organization
Social stigma in the context of health is the negative association between a person or group of people who share certain characteristics and a specific disease. In an outbreak, this may mean people are labelled, stereotyped, discriminated against, treated separately, and/or experience loss of status because of a perceived link with a disease.
The current COVID-19 outbreak has provoked social stigma and discriminatory behaviours against people of certain ethnic backgrounds as well as anyone perceived to have been in contact with the virus.
Access the information page here.

What can we say to children about Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
Clinic for crisis psychology, Bergen, Norway
Advice for parents: The corona epidemic has been declared an international public health crisis and a pandemic by the World Health Organization. It has spread to almost every country in the world. All news broadcasts and very much of what is on web pages deal with this situation. It is also the most dominant topic of conversation among all adults and young people. The situation is unique, and we recommend all parents to have a conversation with their children, including the older kindergarten children. There is constantly scary news being presented, from deaths to worst-case scenarios. If kindergartens and schools are closed and children must be refraining from meeting in groups (such as sport), if they cannot play as before, travel as before, be with extended family as before, there is fear and anxiety. Children lack the experience to grasp the information they receive. This poses major challenges for parents who themselves struggle to understand what is happening.

The guide covers the following topics:
– Facts about the corona virus
– What can we say to the children
– For parents with young children
– General advice for conversations with children
– Family life in a ‘new’ world
You can access the full online guide here.

Helping children cope with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak
World Health Organization
Information sheet on how to help children cope with stress during the Coronavirus outbreak from WHO. It can be accessed here. We recommend printing the sheet if you are able to and keep it somewhere where you see it regularly and are reminded of these concrete steps that you can take to support your children.

EPI-WIN: Updated and reliable information on the coronavirus outbreak 
World Health Organization
EPI-WIN seeks to give people access to timely accurate information from trusted sources. This information will be tailored to different audiences and will answer pertinent questions as the event unfolds. Visit this WHO webpage here.


All manuals can be downloaded from the MHHRI website

There are three different manuals, which respectively address working with women, with boys and men, and with children who have experienced sexual violence.

The manuals are translated into several languages. The page numbers in each manual remain the same across languages. This allows survivors and helpers to work from copies in their preferred language and read the same content on the same pages. It also makes it easier to teach participants when participants and trainers work in more than one language. The manuals include a toolbox. Survivors can use it individually to regulate their own emotions through grounding exercises or in collaboration with a helper. Helpers can also use grounding exercises to take care of themselves as helpers.

We appreciate feedback and comments 

Welcome to our new subscribers, we hope you will find our content useful. The Mental Health and Human Rights Info Newsletter is a newsletter with the aim to provide insight on a certain subject across the scope of our work; human rights violations in war and conflict areas and mental health. Our intention is to deliver a newsletter as a short “lecture” where you can find relevant information regarding a specific subject from a mental health perspective. You will receive our newsletter 5 times a year.

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Sincerely yours,
Take care – and we are wishing you all the best.

Sincerely yours,

Mental Health and Human Rights Info