Mental health problems, a “stigma” that still persists in Latin America

The 5th Mental Health Summit in the Americas was recently held, where the problems and challenges that must be faced in the region were mainly addressed in light of the rise of this medical condition …

Mental health problems, a “stigma” that still persists in Latin America

The 5th Mental Health Summit in the Americas was recently held, where the problems and challenges that must be faced in the region were mainly addressed in light of the rise of this medical condition in the region.

A situation that, according to experts, worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the United States, for example, the number of adults seeking mental health treatment experienced a notable increase, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2021, 22% of adults received some type of treatment, compared to 19% in 2019.

“During the course of the pandemic there were three times more likely to see affected people,” explains Dr. Gustavo Alva, member of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, during an interview for the The Vermilion.

Dr. Alva notes that the prolonged feeling of isolation was a significant factor contributing to the increase in cases of depression during this period. In addition, other circumstances such as the serious physical and mental consequences of the virus, the loss of loved ones and the exacerbation of depression symptoms in those affected by COVID-19 also played a crucial role in this increase.

Policies in the region

That is why PAHO urges us to look for solutions, especially in countries with fewer resources, where, according to the health organization, there continues to be “stigma” and “discrimination” against people who suffer from some type of health-related problem. mental.

“We must ensure that all people have access to quality mental health services and care, based on human rights and free of stigma and discrimination. And suicide must be urgently addressed,” said PAHO Director Jarbas Barbosa during his intervention at the summit held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In that sense, he also clarified that this objective “requires multisectoral alliances and an increase in investment, but also, and as it is a transversal issue for all health and non-health sectors; “It must be integrated into all policies to effectively reinforce the promotion, prevention and care of mental health.”

Regarding the situation in the Americas, the head of PAHO indicated that the region is “experiencing an enormous burden of disability-adjusted life years due to mental health conditions, and is the only one in the world where the rate of “Suicides have increased in the last two decades.”

Added to this is that “many people living with mental health conditions, particularly those in vulnerable situations, lack access to the necessary care in their communities and are subject to stigma, discrimination and marginalization.” Faced with this situation, the region faced a reform with “the reorganization in many countries of their mental health services towards community-based care.”

At the end of his presentation, Dr. Barbosa expressed his expectations for the summit to produce “productive debates and concrete recommendations that highlight the way forward and new and strengthened opportunities for global collaboration on this fundamental issue of health and development.”

The aftermath of the pandemic

This increase in cases during the pandemic has been truly shocking, with data indicating that young people are crying out for help. Kathleen Ethier, director of the CDC’s division of adolescent and school health, emphasizes the need to take action in the face of this crisis facing young people.

The pandemic left profound consequences on the mental health of American adolescents. Nearly 60% of them reported feeling persistent sadness or hopelessness, according to CDC data.

Sexual violence, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, as well as other mental health issues, affected adolescents of various races and ethnic backgrounds, but had an even greater impact on girls and young people in the LGBTQ community.

“In 30 years of collecting similar data, we have never seen these types of devastating and consistent findings. There is no doubt that young people are telling us that they are in crisis. The data really calls for us to act,” said Kathleen Ethier, director of the CDC’s division of adolescent and school health, in statements reported by the agency. Associated Press.

Depression, the most common cause

The United States National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) defines depression as a mood state that affects the way a person feels, thinks, and functions in daily life.

“It is a disease that can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, income, culture or educational level,” indicates the document to which the organization has had access. The Vermilion.

It must be taken into account that “depression can occur together with other mental disorders or diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease or chronic pain,” so this medical condition “can worsen these health problems and vice versa.”

The NIMH identifies two types of depression: major depression, which involves severe symptoms present most of the time for at least two weeks, interfering with the ability to do daily activities, and persistent depressive disorder, which includes less intense but prolonged symptoms , extending for a period of at least two years.

“If someone suffered serious consequences from this virus, they not only had physical symptoms, but also mental symptoms and that leads to depressive problems. Also if we have lost a loved one due to this virus, obviously there is grief and the probability of having problems with depression increases. And finally, people affected by COVID-19 definitely also had an exacerbation or greater problem with depression symptoms,” explains the doctor, who has also been honored by the American Psychiatric Association for the contribution of him in this field.

Hispanics and mental health

In the case of the Hispanic community in the United States, Dr. Alva suggests that the number of cases of depression could be even higher due to the social stigma associated with seeking help from mental health professionals.

“The problem is that when you see a psychiatrist you think that he is a doctor who treats crazy people, when that is not the case. Many think that going to a psychiatrist is because there is a very serious problem, and that is why people do not receive the attention they should have,” says the doctor.

In his opinion, these examples are often seen among the Hispanic community since “they have a different way of understanding or treating mental health” and “unfortunately they do not pay much attention to it and, many times, they even think that the person is exaggerating.”

Given this, he believes that better policies must be implemented to educate the community about the importance of mental health treatment.

A report from Harvard University published in mid-2021 indicated that 36% of the United States population admitted to feeling lonely.

This sensation was experienced more acutely in two specific groups. On the one hand, in young adults. 61% of them, people between 15 and 18 years old, admitted that they felt lonely “regularly”. 43% of them indicated that with the coronavirus pandemic their loneliness had increased.

On the other hand, the group of mothers with small children stood out. More than half acknowledged suffering from loneliness. When asked if that feeling had been aggravated by the coronavirus, 47% of them responded affirmatively.

With these data, experts assure that loneliness has become the silent epidemic of the 21st century. Depression and anxiety due to loneliness are accentuated during the end-of-year holidays, as clinical psychologist Peter Ventre explains in statements to the The Vermilion.

“The level of depression increases by about 60%,” said Ventre, recalling that “this has always existed, but due to stigma and poor access to mental health” it had gone unnoticed by society in general.