Mental Health, too

Mental Health, too

Regardless of religion, Jesus Christ divided the calendar into before and after him. Although, not with the same power, the pandemic of COVID-19 has imposed a division that has fallen into people’s lingo and more, brought micro behavioral revolutions to human life. If before the pandemic, there was already a warning about mental health, then this has become a major concern in the global public health sphere, affecting millions of people worldwide. 

The issue has gained even more prominence in recent years due to the growing number of people with mental disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, and other conditions to a lesser or greater degree of severity . Studies show that more than 450 million people worldwide suffer from mental disorders, with an estimated global cost of $2.5 trillion per year. 

Mental health is a critical issue worldwide

First, there is a contingent that suffers from mental disorders and does not receive adequate treatment. Second, most people are unaware that they have a mental disorder, making it difficult to accept effective treatments. Finally, this deficit is compounded by a severe lack of resources to pay for the treatment of mental disorders, especially in the poorest countries. 

In Latin America, for example, Brazil is the country with the highest prevalence of depression, besides being the second in the Americas – only behind the United States, according to a survey by the World Health Organization (WHO). In its largest and most recent edition, the World Mental Health Report, published in June 2022, brings guidelines in order to support governments, universities, health professionals, as well as civil society in the transformation of mental health. For Dévora Kestel, responsible for the report and director of the WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Use, taking care of mental health means investing in people, because everyone has a right and deserves a chance to thrive.

The scenario is quite worrying in the region. Data provided by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) adds to the criticality. Approximately 20% of the population of Latin America suffers from a mental disorder, the main cause of disability in the continent.

The verb “to care” as applied above is not simply attention to the patient. It involves a tangle of variables that the report sought to compile into four main issues: Structure, Commitment, Finance, and Competencies.

Structure refers to support models, decision-making processes, the existence of policies, and the availability of mental health services integrated into general health systems. Commitment refers to the needs for cultural and behavioral change and the reduction of socioeconomic stigmas associated with mental disorders.

Finance covers investment in mental health, such as funding for services that promote mental health as a whole, allocating funds, and tracking the financial impact of interventions. Finally, competence refers to the education of mental health professionals, their geographical distribution, training, retention, and commitment to equity.

As can be seen, the WHO report brings with it the responsibility to work with mental health in a holistic and broad manner. In this sense, the role of communication (in its various fronts, initiatives, and formats) is extremely relevant, because more than an awareness campaign, it is necessary to give visibility to the various existing actions so that there is effective access to mental health services.               

According to PAHO, only 6% of the Latin American population has access to mental health treatment, and this percentage is even lower in more remote regions and in countries with more vulnerable economies. Some factors contribute to the increase of mental health problems in Latin America, such as social inequality, violence, unemployment, and lack of access to mental health services. Because of these factors, many people do not receive proper treatment for their mental health problems, which can lead to more serious complications.

It is important to point out that despite the current situation, there are some initiatives being taken to improve mental health in Latin America. Some countries have increased funding for mental health programs and other initiatives such as training health professionals to treat mental health problems. In Chile, for example, the government has already established mental health as a priority, with a public budget of $19 billion earmarked for strengthening prevention and treatment for these illnesses by 2023.

However, there is still much work to be done. Promoting public awareness of mental health can help eliminate stigmas associated with mental disorders and encourage people to seek support. And for this, it is up to governments to increase investment in quality services to ensure that the population has more access to information so that problems can be detected early and treated appropriately. 

Society’s awareness is a key factor in promoting change in this situation.  Communication strategies can allow the creation of a favorable environment for the discussion and viability of effective public policies. We are talking about a set of governmental, social, and cultural actions aimed at improving access to care, ensuring quality of service delivery, improving knowledge and understanding of mental health, and promoting mental health within the community, education, and work. In other words, access to care, whether broad or specific, but ultimately genuine.

Giuliana Gregori Directora de Salud de LLYC Brasil

Giuliana Gregori Directora de Salud de LLYC Brasil