Mental health planning at a very early stage of the COVID-19 crisis: a systematic review of online international strategies and recommendations

Nerea Almeda, Carlos García-Alonso, Luis Salvador-Carulla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)
24 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Mental health care systems have been dramatically affected by COVID-19. Containment measures have been imposed, with negative consequences on population mental health. Therefore, an increase in both symptomatology and mental disorder incidence is expected. This research aims to identify, describe and assess the empirical background on online strategies and recommendations developed by international organizations and governments to cope with the psychological impact of COVID-19 at a very early stage of the pandemic. Methods: The PRISMA guidelines were adapted to review online documents. A new questionnaire was developed to identify the existence of common patterns in the selected documents. Questions were classified into three domains: COVID-19 information, mental health strategies and mental health recommendations. A two-step cluster analysis was carried out to highlight underlying behaviours in the data (patterns). The results are shown as spider graphs (pattern profiles) and conceptual maps (multidimensional links between questions). Results: Twenty-six documents were included in the review. The questionnaire analysed document complexity and identified their common key mental health characteristics (i.e., does the respondent have the tools for dealing with stress, depression and anxiety?). Cluster analysis highlighted patterns from the questionnaire domains. Strong relationships between questions were identified, such as psychological tips for maintaining good mental health and coping with COVID-19 (question n° 4), describing some psychological skills to help people cope with anxiety and worry about COVID-19 (question n° 6) and promoting social connection at home (question n° 8). Conclusions: When fast results are needed to develop health strategies and policies, rapid reviews associated with statistical and graphical methods are essential. The results obtained from the proposed analytical procedure can be relevant to a) classify documents according to their complexity in structuring the information provided on how to cope with the psychological impact of COVID-19, b) develop new documents according to specific objectives matching population needs, c) improve document design to face unforeseen events, and d) adapt new documents to local situations. In this framework, the relevance of adapting e-mental health procedures to community mental health care model principles was highlighted, although some problems related to the digital gap must be considered.

Original languageEnglish
Article number43
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


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