When I last wrote to you at the end of January, it was difficult to imagine that COVID-19 would be the force throughout our global community it has become today. It was only nine days ago (11 March 2020) that the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it a global pandemic; since then we have seen countries around the world take unprecedented measures to slow the spread of this new virus.
As is the case for so many other organisations, the work of WPA has been, and will continue to be, affected. Travel restrictions, together with the border closures and limits on public gatherings we are seeing in many countries, mean we have had to change some plans already.
First among these is the need to postpone our regional meeting that was to be held in St Petersburg in May. We’re now working with the Russian Psychiatric Association to finalise new dates for the meeting and will post them on our website in coming days. A wonderful scientific program has been developed for the congress, together with high-level participation, and we trust this will be transferred to the later dates. It is also likely that a number of WPA co-sponsored meetings will be modified or delayed in coming weeks. We therefore urge you to watch the website for immediate updates on any changes to plans or events.
In addition to this work on meetings, we are also resetting priorities and conducting more and more of our business online. WPA’s work as a facilitator of knowledge-sharing is more important now than ever before. You already know that one of our key roles is to link the work of our many components so that we can share best practice and learn from each other. This premise takes on a new level of importance when considering the current COVID-19 pandemic. It is vital that we listen to and learn from each other’s experiences so that we can help to slow the spread of the virus and ease the burden on our health systems.
As psychiatrists and mental health professionals, we all know it is not only the physical effects of COVID-19 that are detrimental for society, but also the mental health effects. As well as supporting people with mental ill health, supporting everybody’s mental health is key.
To this end, we invite you to share with us what YOU are doing to support your communities so that we, in turn, can share it with our global network via our website.
A number of our members have already approached us to tell us where their focus lies at this time, the issues they see as the most important to address and the messages they are communicating with their local communities. I’m pleased to include some of those below. I’m also including some links to other trusted sources and resources. Our goal is to build a library of information that will be helpful to you as we navigate this together.
Over these next months, WPA will be using our website to keep you updated not only on COVID-19, but on all the other work we and our valued partners are doing around the world. We know people are looking for the best available information while having to act in the face of uncertainty, and it is our goal to provide that to you in the simplest way we can. We urge you to share with us any updates, tools, tips and good news stories you might have – and to visit our website regularly for the most up-to-date information.
I know that many of you are on the frontline of the work to protect mental health among the populations in your countries, the people affected by the virus and their families, and among your colleagues. Please be sure to let us know (the WPA Executive Committee and Secretariat) how else WPA may be able to assist you and the demanding work you are doing in this emergency.
Wishing you all healthy and well in the coming months and more.
Prof Helen Herrman AO