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Leveraging Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic to Address the Region’s Mental Health Challenges for the Future – PAHO/WHO

The PAHO NMH/Mental Health and Substance Use Unit will host a side event on mental health in parallel to the 30th Pan American Sanitary Conference, to be held in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, 27 September 2022, at 12.30 pm EDT.

The one-and-a-half-hour meeting will feature presentations and discussions by mental health stakeholders from PAHO subregions highlighting approaches to transformation and how countries hope to apply the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to address key mental health challenges in the Region in the face of future crises such as climate change and growing inequities in mental health.

How to participate


The COVID-19 pandemic has generated severe social, economic, and health impacts globally, and has resulted in unimaginable burden of illness and loss of life. Risk factors for poor mental health such as unemployment, financial insecurity, grief and loss, barriers to health care, abuse/trauma, and isolation, which have been amplified by the pandemic, have contributed to elevated rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. It has been estimated that in 2020, major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders increased by 35% and 32% respectively, in Latin America and the Caribbean. Women, children and adolescents, racial and ethnic minorities, health care and other frontline workers, and people with pre-existing mental health conditions, among other groups, have been disproportionately affected.

The pandemic has also led to significant and persistent disruptions in mental health services across the Americas. According to the WHO national pulse survey on continuity of essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic, services for mental, neurological and substance use (MNS) conditions were the most disrupted category of health services in the Region of the Americas, with 60% of countries reporting disruptions in early 2021.

Looking ahead, as vaccination rates increase and COVID-19 related mortality decreases as the disease becomes endemic, it is likely that there will be long-lasting adverse effects on some people’s mental health and well-being, which could increase demand for mental health services.

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised the visibility of mental health, and this presents an important opportunity to advocate for mental health reforms as Member States build back better, more equitable, and more resilient mental health systems. Countries across the Region have found ways to implement innovative approaches to respond to mental health needs during the pandemic. As we implement the WHO Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan (2013-2030) and discuss the PAHO Policy for Improving Mental Health at the Pan American Sanitary Conference, the time is now that the experiences and lessons learned from COVID-19 pandemic be applied to deepen the value and commitment given to mental health, reshape the environments that influence mental health, and strengthen the systems that care for mental health. This has been underscored in the World Health Organization’s recent World Mental Health Report: Transforming Mental Health For All and in the UN Research roadmap for COVID-19 recovery.


  • Opening Remarks
    •  Dr. Carissa Etienne Director, Pan American Health Organization
  • Panel 1: Elevating Mental Health in National and Regional Agendas
    • The Honorable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health, Canada, on the role of Canada’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions
    • Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer, Canada, on Canada’s domestic work in mental health, focusing on equity and inclusion
    • The Honorable Dr. Carla Vizzotti, Minister of Health of Argentina, on the country’s presidential initiative on mental health and its plans for the 2023 Mental Health Summit
    • H.E. Epsy Campbell Barr, Former Vice President of Costa Rica and Chair of the PAHO High Level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19 on the establishment and work of the PAHO High-Level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19

  • Panel 2: Mental Health in the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond: Applying Lessons Learned from COVID-19 for Transformative Change
    • Dr. Anselm Hennis, Director, Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health Department, Pan American Health Organization:a regional overview on lessons learned from COVID-19 for the future TBC
    • The Honorable Dr. Ian Gooding-Edghill, Minister of Health and Wellness of Barbados on climate change and mental health
    • Mr. Jose Martin Yac Huix, Director, Asociación IDEI, Guatemala, on promoting equity and representation in mental health
    • The Honorable Dr. Ximena Aguilera Sanhueza, Minister of Health of Chile, on strengthening human rights for mental health and scaling up technological solutions to expand access to mental health care.

  • Question and Answer Session  
    • Moderator: Dr. Renato Oliveira e Souza, Chief, Mental Health and Substance Use Unit, Pan American Health Organization

  • Closing Remarks
    • Ambassador Dr. Nestor Mendez Assistant Secretary General Organization of American States

Time correspondence

  •   9:30 am.– Los Angeles, Vancouver
  • 10:30 am. – Belmopan, Guatemala City, Managua, San Jose (CR), San Salvador, Tegucigalpa
  • 11:30 am. – Bogota, Mexico City, Panama City, Kingston, Lima, Quito
  • 12.30 pm. – Asunción, Bridgetown, Caracas, Castries, Georgetown, Havana, La Paz, Nassau, Ottawa, Port-au-Prince, Port of Spain, San Juan, Santo Domingo, Washington DC
  •  1:30 pm  –  Buenos Aires, Brasilia, Montevideo, Paramaribo, Santiago
  •  6:30 pm. – Geneva, Madrid

For other cities, check the local time in the following link.

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