Mental Health During Pandemic According to Dr. Ronald W. Pies, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, the term “mental health pandemic” is not accurate & not even helpful.

Let’s start by looking at the definition of pandemic itself“Pandemic refers to a disease epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people.”

There are two key terms here – disease & epidemic. This raises the question of whether mental illnesses can be categorised as both a disease & an epidemic.

Let’s now look at the definition of epidemic: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines an epidemic as an “unexpected increase in the number of disease cases in a specific geographical area.”

An epidemic is any rise in cases beyond the baseline for that geographic area.So now, we are at a point where we have to ask whether the numbers of psychiatric illness has increased to the point of constituting an “epidemic.”

The only way to know that is by looking at the data. However, there is one problem.

Most data collected worldwide are not diagnostic evaluations, they are only self reported screening surveys. It’s very important to understand the methodology of how mental illness is diagnosed.

Mental illnesses cannot be diagnosed through self reported screening surveys.

One who shows a score high in a screening test may or may not have a mental illness. Dr Pies states that “the critical point is that self-reported symptoms obtained from a screening survey do not establish the presence of a psychiatric disease, illness, or disorder.”

Almost all surveys on mental health conducted in a large scale do not determine the presence of the illness, but only the symptoms of the illness.

Again, they are not diagnostic evaluations. Only upon careful, detailed assessment, professionals can diagnose the presence of mental illness. So, to simply put it – no, it is not accurate to say use the term pandemic or epidemic for mental illnesses.


Akif Basri , Fellow YoungMinds

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