Globally, mental health faces unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19.  Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones.  National leaders face significant challenges in protecting and scaling up mental health support as part of the COVID-19 response. A recent WHO global survey indicated that 37% countries reported that COVID-19 mental health response plans were only partially funded and a further 37% reported having no funds at all.

The UK-PHRST “Strengthening public mental health in Africa in response to COVID-19” project, due for completion in March 2021, aims to better understand enablers and barriers to integrating mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) support as part of the COVID-19 response in African countries, and to identify what is needed to strengthen capacity of national leadership to respond to the mental health aspects of future outbreaks.

In the first 5 months of the project:

  • A Consortium for Mental Health in Africa has been established. Members include Africa CDC, WHO AFRO and EMRO, West African Health Organization (WAHO) and the East Central and Southern Africa (ECSA) Health Community Group, Public Health England, and the Centre for Global Mental Health at LSHTM. The Consortium, chaired by WHO AFRO and hosted by the PH-UKRST, has been a valuable forum to discuss and coordinate regional work on mental health, and for mutual support in responding to emerging national-level MHPSS needs.

  • 25 countries have participated in the project survey, and mental health leads in Ministries of Health, WHO and civil society have been interviewed in ten countries so far. Preliminary survey findings indicate a high degree of variability of MHPSS integration as part of the COVID-19 response. Interviews have highlighted significant challenges with funding, political will, and human resources in mobilizing mental health support as part of the COVID-19 response.

    The UK-PHRST is working with the Consortium to develop a capacity building programme to address challenges identified by the research component of the project. An online ‘Psychological First Aid’ module, originally developed by Public Health England (PHE) for UK settings, has been adapted for frontline workers working in an African context. This will be online in January 2021, and available free of charge on the FutureLearn platform. A workshop and peer-support programme for national mental health leaders is also being developed and will begin in 2021.

For further information on the project, please contact Alice Walker, UK-PHRST mental health research fellow, at