Mental health: a problem we need to take care of in Latin America

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It's not only a matter of certain diseases that prevail, but that the treatment gap must be reduced, according to PAHO

Mental health: a problem we need to take care of in Latin America

"Mens sana in corpore sano" said Juvenal, Roman satirical poet, in one of his poems. The phrase translates 'a healthy mind into a healthy body', which at the time refers to the importance of the union between spiritual health and bodily health. In contemporary terms, one could speak of the close relationship between the health of the mind and that of the body.

Leer en español: Salud mental: un problema que es necesario visibilizar en Latinoamérica

Just in Latin America this link is not usually taken into account, since a person easily goes to the doctor to be treated, for example, a bronchitis, but it takes a long time to approach a doctor in case he suffers a constant sadness that can be a depression.

This large gap in the treatment of mental disorders is one of the problems that PAHO identifies in its study on mental health in Latin America . Here in LatinAmerican Post we tell you more about it in the framework of the World Health Day that is celebrated on April 7.

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The statistics

To the diseases that affect our mind, PAHO calls them mental, neurological and substance use disorders and places them as an important cause of morbidity, disability and premature death in America, in addition to increasing the risk of having other diseases.

According to the study, in terms of 12-month prevalence, anxiety disorders are those with the highest number in the region (9.3% to 16.1%), followed by affective disorders (7.0% to 8.7%). %) and finally disorders due to the use of psychoactive substances (3.6% to 5.3%). Already in relation to the prevalence throughout life, for example, severe depression affects 12.5% of the population of the region, followed by alcohol abuse or dependence with 11.7%.


PAHO also notes that dementia is one of the Region's greatest concerns with a 12-month prevalence of 8.5 in people over 60 years of age. Moreover, it is also one of the diseases that is expected to grow the most with a 47% disability in the people of the aforementioned age group.

Finally, it is important to emphasize the most serious consequences. From the data of the study, many of the cases of suicide, 90%, derive from people with a mental disorder susceptible to being diagnosed. The suicide mortality rate is 7.3 per 100,000 and the highest rates are for people over 70 years of age. Finally, the study states that although women are more likely to attempt suicide, men consume it in greater proportion.

Worry in the treatment gap

Even if there has been a minimal increase in recent years, one of the biggest problems in relation to mental disorders is the treatment gap that reaches 73.5% in adults and 82.2% in children and adolescents. Thus, it is not only necessary to take into account the number of people suffering from a disorder, but also the access to treatments and visibility of these diseases in society.

PAHO affirms that "the provision of services tends to fragment and there is poor coordination between levels of health care. More attention is given to psychiatric hospitals at the expense of the development of community services. The material and human resources allocated are scarce, unequal and poorly distributed. " This makes it clear that mental disorders are not attributed the seriousness they require, because the resources covered are not many. Thus, one can understand the suicide rate that occurs due to a disorder that could have been previously diagnosed.

For example, of the total health budget only 0.90% is directed to psychiatric hospitals in Central America, Mexico and the Latin Caribbean, and 2.10% in South America. These statistics show a negligence and lack of relevance that is given to mental health in Latin America from government budgets that do not cover enough institutions that treat mental disorders.

Taking into account the above, as stated by PAHO, "the social and economic cost that mental, neurological and substance use disorders represent for individuals and communities can be overcome with more investment and a paradigm shift through models that place people and not diseases at the center of the system and focus more on recovery than on cure".


LatinAmerican Post | Juan Gabriel Bocanegra

Translated from "Salud mental: un problema que es necesario visibilizar en América Latina"