Mental Health in Burundi
The aftermath of the long-lasting Burundian Civil War manifests as poverty, trauma and inequality in Burundi. These factors devastate the mental health of people in Burundi; depression, anxiety and PTSD are common in adults and children alike.

An Overview of Burundi

From 1993 to 2005, the Republic of Burundi, a country located in East Africa, endured a violent civil war stemming from ethnic conflicts between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority. Although the civil war officially came to an end 17 years ago, ethnic violence and injustice persist, causing many to live in fear or flee as refugees. Furthermore, the long-term impacts of the civil war linger in the form of poverty and mental illness.

According to the World Food Program U.S.A, Burundi ranks as one of the most impoverished nations globally, with a staggering poverty rate of 65%. Furthermore, on the 2019 Human Development Index (HDI), Burundi ranks 185th out of 189 nations. “The HDI is a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.” Burundi’s ranking places the nation “in the low human development category.”

With 12.2 million citizens crammed into 9,920 square miles, overpopulation and food insecurity are major problems. Malaria, measles, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis are common causes of death in Burundi. COVID-19 and a lack of adequate medical care exacerbate poor living conditions within the country. These factors push mental health treatment to the back burner.

Case Study

The aftermath of the war created a ripple of trauma for many citizens. A 2018 study by Nkengurutse and Bitangumutwenzi illuminates the severity of mental health in Burundi. The study included 120 subjects from ages 15 to 55. The results were frighteningly dire: 100% of patients had some form of moderate to severe mental illness. About 57% suffered depression, 20% had “psychotic features,” 13% had bipolar disorder, 8% received a schizophrenia diagnosis and 65% were victims of trauma.

Subjects remained as inpatients for about 20 days. Mental health stigma (60%) and “poor economic insertion” (90%) stood as barriers to full recovery. After a year, 30% of treated patients reported a full recovery while 42% went into relapse. This study illustrates the sheer volume of Burundians that struggle with mental illness and the factors presenting barriers in mental health recovery.

The Good News

Sports unite warring factions of Burundi, reducing the ethnic tensions prevalent across the nation. Burundi recognizes sports as an outlet, never missing a Summer Olympic Game since its first debut in the Olympics in 1996. Athletes from Burundi also compete in the African Wrestling Championship, winning gold and silver medals. Among women, soccer offers many females a source of income, providing a way to use their talents to make a living, the Guardian explains. Soccer also grants these girls and women independence and freedom, a rare commodity for many Burundian females who often face parental pressures to marry as teenagers. Athletes provide role models for young Burundians and boost morale throughout the country, directly improving mental health and confidence.

Why Mental Health Matters

Poor mental health directly correlates with poverty. The Psychiatric Times observed that childhood poverty may lead to depression and anxiety, a decline in school performance and an increased rate of “psychiatric disorders in adulthood.” This impact on education is evident in Burundi as the nation’s literacy rate stood at about 68% in 2017, well below the world average of 86%.

In addition, poverty has direct links to depression, anxiety, psychological distress and suicidality. This causal relationship between poverty and mental illness creates a constant loop that is especially dangerous in Burundi where it is extremely difficult to escape the cycle of poverty. Poverty leads to poor mental health, which impedes the ability of individuals to pull themselves out of the depths of poverty, thus worsening their mental states. In 2019, the Mental Health Innovation Network stated that “90% of people with mental illnesses have no access to treatment, especially in [impoverished] and rural areas.”

Organizations Assist

While UNICEF’s mental health services in 2020 gave 160,000 Burundian children access to mental health resources, partially alleviating the issue, there are still millions of Burundians in need of mental health treatment.

Human Health Aid–Burundi (HHA Burundi) is a nonprofit that “medical students, psychologists and social workers” established in 2005. The organization works with Burundian communities, “especially children and women who suffer from anxiety, depression, trauma and other psychosocial consequences of their war experiences,” to improve “access to mental health care and psychosocial support.” HHA Burundi also provides direct aid to refugees by sending clothing, food and other necessities. Through programs such as Health School and Sanitation Training in Burundi, HHA Burundi transforms lives.

In addition, UNICEF secured $9.8 million worth of funds for Burundi in 2020 for the provision of education, food, medicine and other humanitarian needs. Aid lessens the economic and emotional strain in Burundi, therefore, contributing to positive mental health.

While addressing mental health in Burundi is a matter of urgency, several organizations are stepping in to assist. Furthermore, sport provides citizens an outlet for trauma, giving Burundians a source of hope in a war-torn country. As organizations strive to push mental health to the forefront of foreign aid, the hope is for Burundians to receive the mental health assistance they require to thrive.

– Mariam Abaza
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in the United Kingdom
In April 2021, psychiatrists warned that the United Kingdom may be in the depths of a mental health crisis. The number of people seeking help for issues such as anxiety and depression climbed to record numbers in 2020. In fact, these numbers were so high that the National Health Service (NHS) struggled to meet the demand for mental health services. Affirming this in October 2021, Somerset, a mental health organization, said that the U.K. is facing a “mental health pandemic.”

4 Facts About Mental Health in the United Kingdom

  1. COVID-19 significantly impacts mental health in the United Kingdom. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported in October 2021, that at the height of the pandemic, 21% of adults in Great Britain suffered depression. This is an uptick from the pre-pandemic level of 10%. Furthermore, nearly 75% of these adults reporting symptoms of depression attribute those symptoms to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Mental illness is on the rise among the youth. The U.K. Children’s Society indicates that “in the last three years, the likelihood of young people having a mental health problem” has risen by 50%. Exacerbating these issues further, about 75% of youth suffering from mental health issues do not receive the mental health assistance they require. Dr. Santiago Nieto, a general practitioner who works at Northampton’s County Surgery, told the BBC in November 2021 that “there is far more anxiety, more depression, more cases of suicide or attempted suicide and more serious self-harm.”
  3. Geography matters in the case of mental health in the U.K. Research shows that mental health issues are more common in certain areas within the U.K. For example, the Health and Social Care Board finds that mental diseases such as anxiety and depression are more prevalent “in children and young people in Northern Ireland” in comparison to other areas of the U.K. This survey is the first of its kind, and though it is unclear why this disparity exists, researchers find that an array of factors contribute to the rising levels of depression, including “family trauma, adversity, poor health and disability.” Furthermore, according to the ONS, “adults living in the most deprived areas of England” are twice as likely to experience depression as those living “in the least deprived areas of England.”
  4. Unemployment strongly affects mental health. According to the ONS, adults facing unemployment are 50% more susceptible to depression than employed adults. Noting a situation prompting further inquiry, The Health Foundation released a report in April 2021 examining the relationship between mental health and unemployment, especially amid COVID-19. The report finds that “the relationship between mental health and unemployment in the U.K. is bi-directional,” meaning that strong mental health can help an individual secure a job and losing a job can damage mental health. The report estimates that the rising unemployment rate in the U.K. will worsen the mental health of “an additional 200,000 people” by the end of 2021.

NHS to the Rescue

Despite the challenges of mental health in the United Kingdom, there is a strong apparatus in place to address the challenge. In 2008, the NHS introduced the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) program, which has since become one of the most recognized mental health programs in the world. The IAPT utilizes talk therapies to treat people with anxiety and depression in England. Due to its success, the NHS is expanding the program. New goals aim to reach nearly 2 million adults with IAPT services by 2024. Program expansion will also focus on “supporting people to find or stay in work” amid rising unemployment.

COVID-19, rising unemployment, growing depression and anxiety rates among the youth as well as unequal access to care presents a complicated problem for the United Kingdom, which will require creative solutions. However, the nation remains steadfast in its commitment to improving mental health in the United Kingdom with the support of the NHS and countless organizations.

– Richard J. Vieira
Photo: Unsplash

Mental Health in Guatemala 
Between 1960 and 1996, Guatemala fought in a civil war between the government of Guatemala and several leftist rebel groups, resulting in many deaths due to the destructive violence. This caused many mental health conditions and problems to arise in the people residing in the country. Unfortunately, violence and public security continue to be a concern in Guatemala, deteriorating Guatemalan’s mental health. 

What Does Mental Health Mean and Why is it Important?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines mental health as someone’s emotional, psychological and social well-being, affecting how they experience and perform in their daily lives. To add, it can help determine how people cope with stress and make choices. Mental health is significant for one’s physical health because poor mental health can lead to diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

The Number of People in Guatemala that Have a Mental Health Disorder

More than 3,250,000 people in Guatemala could experience a mental health illness in their lifetime. However, unfortunately, many of them do not seek the help they need. In fact, one in four people between the ages of 18 and 65 have suffered or continue to suffer from a mental health disorder, but only 2.3% took the initiative to consult a psychiatrist to address their mental health issues. Commonly, people do not want to talk about their mental health. The reason is the lack of knowledge and the stigma around mental health in Guatemala.

Furthermore, Guatemala’s poverty rate increased from 45.6% to 47% in 2020. As a result, Guatemalans are at greater risk to develop mental health disorders because they endure more difficulties in their daily lives. The limited mental health sources available to them are insufficient to help alleviate the stress that socioeconomic disadvantages cause.

In the United States, most health care providers do not cover expenses for mental health care. Interestingly, Guatemala does not have a universal health care system, let alone dedicated mental health legislation. As a result, Guatemalans have difficulty seeking help because there is “0.54 psychiatrist available per 100,000 inhabitants,” according to American Psychological Association. Only five of them are outside of the main cities. Guatemala is a low-income country that does not have the resources to make mental health data available to the public. That is why there are not many studies or public data regarding this issue.

The Main Cause of Poor Mental Health in Guatemalan Children

A study that Rosalba Company-Cordoba and Diego Gomez-Baya conducted includes the issue of mental health of children in Guatemala. Interestingly, 50% of Guatemala’s total population is under 18 years old, making it a country with one of the youngest populations. A child’s mental health is valuable because it can have positive or negative long-lasting effects on their development.

Unfortunately, Guatemala’s high poverty rate has led to increased levels of violence because of the struggle to live in desperate conditions in the community. Exposure to violence showed significant effects on a child’s mental health, such as depression and anxiety. Although childhood poverty is prevalent in many areas of Guatemala, the quality of life showed little significance in the study. These symptoms were more common in adolescents than in children because they are more aware of their surroundings and environment. On the other hand, children exposed to low violence from urban areas with educated parents described higher qualities of life.

Violence rates have continued to increase with assaults, shootings, threats and robberies, causing many children to be afraid to go to school. Almost 60% of Guatemalan students would prefer not to go to school due to fear. Many students and teachers have received threats and experienced robberies or know someone who has been a victim of violence. Guatemala remains one of the poorest countries with high rates of violence, causing a higher risk of a child developing mental health disorders.

Living in these socioeconomic disadvantaged areas can cause children to become part of the gangs because there is no other option. The previously mentioned study showed the association between greater parental education level and higher income with lower food insecurity. However, many children do not attend higher education schooling because they have to help their families with household expenses. The number of children living in urban areas is increasing. This leads to more children in unsanitary conditions and a high cost of living. Almost all children attend primary school. However, the completion rate is 15%, which leads to low enrollment rates for secondary school.

Solutions for Mental Health in Guatemala

Many people have taken action to improve the state of mental health in Guatemala, especially for children. First, many citizens are taking to the streets to protest against the continuation of violence. The implementation of the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) resulted in reductions in homicide rates. For example, there were fewer homicides per 100,000 each year. The CICIG provided Guatemala with $150 million in international support to help reform their justice system, but President Jimmy Morales thought this violated Guatemalan authority. As a result, he removed the CICIG mandate in 2019, causing a setback.

Next, people are beginning to seek support for their mental health in Guatemala due to more specialized centers offering psycho-emotional support services to the public, such as Federico Mora National Hospital for Mental Health, for a low cost. According to American Psychological Association, there are about seven psychologists for every 100,000 people, which is a number that continues to increase.

Lastly, schools are doing their part in fighting against gang violence to make children safer in Guatemala and other countries. With support from UNICEF and the Ministry of Education, the schools created a Peace and Coexistence Committee. The idea is to promote an environment where they do not tolerate violence, as Theirworld reported. The schools are trying to lead by example and show their students that violence is not always the answer. They found over the years that there are fewer arguments between the children because they have conversions to handle any dispute.

As Guatemala continues to be a low-income country, crime rates and violence will increase, leading to mental health problems. Mental health in Guatemala will suffer the consequences of the stigma and the lack of resources. The country is working toward a better future by spreading awareness about mental health and fighting violent trends.

– Kayla De Alba
Photo: Unsplash

Mental Health in Norway
Mental health is a disease that affects an estimated 792 million people worldwide. Yet when people live in poverty and lack the money to attain basic needs, mental health often falls on the back burner. This is especially true in Norway. Though the country has a low poverty rate coupled with substantial efforts to improve access to and quality of mental health care, about half of all people in Norway experience a mental health disorder at some point in their life, and these numbers are rising in the wake of COVID-19.

Health Care in Norway

Norway offers universal health care coverage to all of its citizens and extends this service to all citizens from the European Union. It receives funding through general taxes and payroll contributions by employees, and provides a variety of services, with mental health being one of them. In 1956, this system, called the National Insurance Scheme, became a right for all Norway citizens. Though it ensures access to local municipalities and general practitioners, patients that require long-term or outpatient care must pay a fraction of it, making services unattainable for some poorer citizens.

How Does Economic Status Influence Mental Health?

 Mental health problems can arise in anyone, regardless of age, socioeconomic status or demographic group. The ways these disorders affect the individual vary. However, people in poverty are more susceptible, as a large factor fueling these disorders is one’s life situation. In fact, life factors like disability, unemployment, sicknesses and others drive common mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

A study that the International Journal for Equity in Health published found “the prevalence of psychological distress increasing by decreasing social status,” and noted economic problems as a major factor of it. Life factors, like living in poverty, have proven to increase levels of mental health disorders, but so do perceived living situations. Another study, published in Science Direct, investigated Norwegian adolescents’ view of living status. It found that if people felt they were impoverished or living in a low-income household, they had higher instances of mental health disorders. This perception, it found, might even be more influential than actual living conditions.

Impact of Mental Health Disorders on Norwegians

Estimates have determined that nearly 15% of children worldwide suffer from a mental health disorder. In 2018, 16.5% of  Norwegians 15 to 24 years old reported experiencing “severe psychological distress.” Typically, mental disorders manifest as early as 14 years of age, with personality and anxiety disorders developing as early as 11 years old. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said that “without early and effective treatment and inclusion in society, young people with mental disorders risk becoming lifetime users of adult mental health services.” On top of this, instances of mental illness in children and young adults are particularly concerning since they lead to poorer education and difficulty transitioning into the workplace. Consequently, affected individuals earn lower incomes as adults if not treated properly at a young age.

Concerningly, in the last decade, Norway experienced an increase in permanent poverty among children, a factor that directly relates to mental health. Oslo, the country’s capital, has notable disparities in income throughout the city’s districts. This impacts mental health in Norway since living in city districts with high-income inequality, like in much of Oslo, lowers the probability of accessing mental health services, according to a study by Jon Finnvold of Oslo Metropolitan University. The study also highlighted that kids living in lower-income households experienced a higher risk of behavioral, or mental, problems.

What is Norway Doing to Improve Mental Health Services?

Notably, in the past few decades, there has been substantial investment in mental health services in Norway. Between 1999 and 2008, it invested NOK 6.3 billion ($735, 739, 200) into the Escalation Plan for Mental Health. This investment lowered suicide rates and helped improve services already provided by municipalities and increased access to children.

However, there are still discrepancies in access to care for mental health in Norway, largely based on socioeconomic status. Any problems Norway faced with its mental health care system only became more pronounced during the pandemic: like all countries, it saw an increase in patients requesting mental health assistance, especially in early 2020, the onset of the pandemic. A lot of these increases, as scientists speculate in a study that VOX EU published, come from the effects of lockdown and movement restrictions. Scientists are looking to policymakers, as they enforced said lockdowns, and draw on this evidence to show the harm isolation has on people’s overall mental health.

In no way do mental health problems only affect Norway; they also affect the entire world without discrimination, planting its seeds in the minds of the richest and the poorest of citizens belonging to any race, ethnicity or income level. Yet, people with lower incomes and of a minority ethnicity are particularly vulnerable to feeling the weight of these illnesses, as they have less access to services.

In Norway, the government’s universal health care system calls for equal access to all health services, including mental health, but it is just not the case. Those needing more comprehensive care still must pay a portion out of pocket, a bill that not everyone can afford to pay. Oslo specifically is home to unequal access, a direct result of the stark income discrepancies throughout the city. Norway has made substantial progress through mental health investment, but there is always a need to reach more people, to focus on the vulnerable populations to ensure they have the same opportunity for care as everyone else. There are still people not receiving care, as costs remain a barrier for those needing extensive treatment.

– Cameryn Cass
Photo: Unsplash

Poverty and Mental Health in Afghanistan
Forty years of turmoil and armed conflict fuels poverty’s role on mental health in Afghanistan. Poverty and increased violence exacerbate Afghanistan’s poor mental health. It is a cycle that has been going on since the Cold War’s end, creating an environment that forces people into poverty rather than them receiving the assistance they require.

Aside from the cold facts that Afghanistan imports the majority of its electricity and that the majority of the country still lacks access to it, Afghanistan also suffers from severe famine, drought and a lack of basic sanitary needs. Combined with years of civil war, terrorism uprisings and military coups, the high number of poverty and mental health issues does not seem so surprising.

Mental Health Suffers in Afghanistan

Although little data on mental health in Afghanistan has undergone compilation, Afghanistan has had an increased number of mental health conditions and poverty among its population over the years, primarily since 2001. Currently, the poverty rate in Afghanistan sits at 72% but projections have determined that it could rise to 97% due to the Taliban’s takeover. In addition, the expectation is that poor mental health in Afghanistan will worsen as a result of current violent regime changes in a country with a history of violence, uncertainty and civil war.

The World Bank reported in 2011 that, “Conflict and other factors such as unemployment, general poverty, breakdown of community support services, and inadequate access to health services have not only damaged the social infrastructure of the nation, but also caused mental health disorders mostly in vulnerable groups like women and disabled people.”

Support is Necessary and Overdue

Since then, the number of conflicts, impoverished and mentally impaired people in Afghanistan has increased. The International Psychosocial Organisation (IPSO) has provided the most recent data on mental health in Afghanistan out there in an annual report from 2019 which covers the drastic gap in mental health needs and facilities. The report states that 70% need mental health support.

Another report, from the Refugee Documentation Center in Ireland, found that in 2019, more than 50% of the population suffers from anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while only 10% could actually seek help. Although many of these cases are due to exposure to violent conflict over the last four decades, many organizations also suggest a strong link between extreme poverty conditions and mental health. About 40% of Afghanistan’s people, who suffer from PTSD, relate their experience back to a lack of food and running water.

The National Mental Health Symposium, which the Ministry of Public Health of the Government of Afghanistan held in 2019 explains how poverty, conflict and unstable living conditions contribute to the rise in poor mental health in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s Effect

As the Taliban transforms the government of Afghanistan to how they see fit, mental health facilities and doctors are at risk of shutdown due to the Taliban’s negative views of Western practices. Both the World Bank and the IPSO report that religious and cultural traditions create barriers to treating mental health in Afghanistan.

TABISH in Afghanistan, a nonprofit humanitarian organization that provides mental health support, education and human rights support suspended its operations just one week after the Taliban took over the government. “There is no international support because we cannot have staff in our organization. Not just for us but many organizations [and] there is no guarantee for our staff if we find support,” Dr. Aria, the founder of TABISH, said in a phone call with The Borgen Project. “There is a high demand for mental health right now, people are traumatized.”

Aria also noted that the majority of the staff at TABISH in Afghanistan were women, and the sudden change in women’s rights, aside from the loss of income, are causing even greater mental health strains now. “Going from conflict to conflict, poverty, discrimination against women, high unemployment and many more things are causing a high demand for mental health services in Afghanistan,” Dr. Aria said. In the preceding weeks, Dr. Aria left Afghanistan with his family due to safety reasons. They are staying in the United States at the moment.

Help is More Possible Now More than Ever

Mental health support has become more readily available in Afghanistan over the last decade. World organizations, such as the World Bank, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations, are making it a top priority to help stabilize the health systems in the country.

Through continued international support—not just from organizations but individual countries as well—the conflict-torn country’s mental health community can gain the facilities, power and attention needed to begin the end-cycle of poverty and poor mental health in Afghanistan.

– Ali Benzerara
Photo: Flickr

Mental Illness in Australia
Mental illness in Australia is a serious health issue, with 20% of people ages 16-85 diagnosed with a mental illness each year. The most common disorders include depression, anxiety and substance abuse. These illnesses usually emerge during adolescence, beginning as early as the age of 18; those who fall within this age range also have the highest number of cases of mental illness compared to any other age group. Almost half of Australians (45%) will experience some sort of mental disorder within their lifetime. Of these, 54% do not have access to any kind of treatment, making mental health a major concern in Australia.

About SANE Australia

SANE Australia is a national mental health charity that has a dedication to helping those within Australia feel comfortable to talk about their problems and works toward bettering the lives of those with a mental illness. SANE provides counseling support, and peer support that includes a variety of services, as well as conducting research and providing advocacy. The organization helps those who feel alone by providing them with a free counseling service. Counselors are available via phone, webchat or email Monday through Friday from 10 to 10. All sessions are one-on-one and completely confidential.

People who feel alone are also able to contact a peer support worker to talk about what matters most to them and can join peer-group chats via the web. A peer support worker runs the group chats and these chats allow those with mental health challenges to talk to others anonymously. The forums are available to anonymously post any thoughts and feelings individuals have on any topic they choose. Others can then read these comments, and respond, letting the anonymous individuals know that they are not alone.

Mental Health Foundation Australia

Mental Health Foundation Australia is an organization that works toward improving the lives of those with a mental illness. Its vision is “Better Mental Health For All.” Established in 1930, as Australia’s first mental health organization, it prides itself on its holistic approach in advocating for mental health, and providing aid for those with a mental illness, as well as those who live with them and care for them. MHFA’s values are compassion, excellence, inclusion, innovation and integrity. MHFA’s two service activities are support groups and education.

MHFA offers various support groups to people, depending on the mental illness with which they are dealing. The organization notes that this is the best way for people to cope with their illness, through a stable environment that allows people to exchange new skills, methods and ways to cope with challenges. Group participants include family, friends and caregivers, in addition to those with mental health issues.

MHFA’s education efforts address those with mental health issues, as well as community awareness of mental health. The organization has designed programs to target early intervention and mental health literacy. These include mental health webinars, mental health first aid courses and basic mental health information brochures.

Conclusion

Through these organizations’ continued hard work and dedication, Australians dealing with a mental illness are more likely to receive the care they need, and the number of those with no access to help may decrease.

– Nia Hinson
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Venezuela
Due to the ongoing humanitarian and economic crises in the nation, mental health in Venezuela has become a forefront issue for both people who remain in the country and those migrating to flee the trouble at home. Mental health troubles affect Venezuelans of all ages and the changes that COVID-19 has brought about have compounded the issue.

Mental Health in Venezuela

Following the death of former Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro assumed power in 2013. Due to a reduction in foreign aid and outdated spending policies, the economy spiraled into a deficit, which eventually led to food and medical shortages. Since the start of the conflict, more than 5.6 million people have fled Venezuela, mostly to Peru or Colombia.

The turmoil from hyperinflation, political unrest and the ensuing mass exodus has created a stressful environment in which the development of mental health issues is common. Before the pandemic, one out of every two Venezuelan migrants in Peru exhibited some health issue, including those related to depression, fear, anxiety or stress, and went without professional care. Following the advent of COVID-19, estimates indicate that less than 10% of those in need of healthcare can receive treatment because of economic constraints or policies related to quarantines.

The Effects on Children

Mental health in Venezuela is not an issue limited to the adult population. Although Venezuela’s government does not track data on the mental wellness of its youth, it is possible to get a glimpse of the circumstances through those who work firsthand with Venezuelan children. Cecodap is one such NGO that focuses on child and adolescent rights. Psychologist Abel Saraiba works closely with Cecodap in Venezuela, reporting that the number of children exhibiting symptoms of depression and anxiety rose from 9% in February 2020 to 31% in June 2020. Venezuela’s first quarantine measures, which it implemented in March 2020, may have influenced this. Saraiba tells Reuters, “We have a complex humanitarian emergency on top of a pandemic,” and “the combination of these factors produces a deterioration in living conditions.”

Actions to Address Mental Health in Venezuela

While the situation of mental health in Venezuela remains dire, hope is on the horizon for those in need. UNICEF and the United Nations have taken notice of the struggles Venezuelans face, especially with COVID-19 exacerbating these issues.

One of the most significant sources of stress for children is unrest at home. UNICEF is working extensively with the population of Venezuela to spread awareness about the rise in domestic violence since the start of the pandemic. In addition, UNICEF helps provide support for returning Venezuelans and their families. UNICEF is also positioning counselors at the borders and assigning caseworkers to help stem domestic disputes.

The United Nations’ 2021 Venezuela Humanitarian Response Plan targets 4.5 million Venezuelans in need. The plan aims to “provide life-saving emergency assistance, secure livelihoods through improving access to basic services and ensure the protection of the most vulnerable,” among other goals. The plan’s funding will allow many who struggle with mental health in Venezuela to seek treatment. So far, showing support of the plan, the international community has committed roughly $83 million to aid struggling Venezuelans.

With aid to Venezuela from multiple organizations focusing on several aspects of well-being, including mental health, there is hope for mental health in Venezuela to improve.

– Kevin Leonard
Photo: Pixabay

Mental Health in SloveniaSlovenia has made notable efforts to alleviate mental health difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is especially remarkable considering the Slovenian government’s substantial battle in improving mental health in Slovenia over the past two decades.

Mental Health in Slovenia

In 2006, an HBSC survey provided some insight into the extent to which the population was coping with mental health difficulties. Notably, of girls aged 11-15, “only 39% estimated their mental health as excellent” while the percentage among boys of the same age was higher at 53%. Additionally concerning is that 16% of girls and 12% of boys surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with their lives. A more recent WHO-conducted Mental Health Atlas Country Profile report also sparks concerns as the WHO official estimate of Slovenia’s burden of mental disorders in 2014 is noteworthy. Particularly concerning is the fact that the figure of disability-adjusted life years due to mental disorders was 4.3 years and the age-standardized suicide rate was 12.4 suicides per 100,000 people.

Connection to Poverty

Slovenia’s fight to improve its population’s mental health cannot be disconnected from the issue of poverty, especially when it comes to mental health among adolescents. The evidence that best demonstrates this link to poverty comes from a 2014 mental health inequalities study. The principal finding was that adolescents in lower socioeconomic standings display poorer mental health outcomes than those in higher socioeconomic positions.

The study also demonstrates that the connection to poverty goes further, with results showing that the adolescent perception of an impoverished familial financial position will both decrease their “life satisfaction” and increase the risk of the adolescent enduring mental health problems. These extensive facts and figures demonstrate that mental health in Slovenia also constitutes a poverty issue and is representative of the byproducts of wealth inequalities.

Slovenia’s Past Mental Health Efforts

During the past two decades prior to the pandemic, Slovenia’s government progressively increased its commitment to addressing mental health in Slovenia with several services from newly formed institutions and programs. One of the nation’s key initiatives was outlining principal aims to strive for in its Programme for Children and Youth 2006-2016, which included ensuring children and young adults live a healthy life.

This involved not only improving the mental health of those targeted but also improving their financial and nutritional stability. Another massive initiative launched was a significant extension of the Slovene Network of Health Promoting Schools (SNHPS) in 1998 and 2008 to include more than 130 schools. The strategy aimed to promote health at schools in a more holistic manner and place greater emphasis on mental health. In addition, in recent years, the number of mental health-related seminars in school settings has also increased.

But, the country’s most notable act addressing mental health was the establishment in 2002 of health promotion centers (HPCs) within all of the country’s 61 primary healthcare centers. These HPCs function as the first-contact providers of mental health promotion services to the country’s population, especially the most marginalized and vulnerable communities.

Current Services and Solutions

Amid a global health pandemic with devastating effects on mental health in Slovenia, the Slovenian government is doing commendably in weathering the storm. At the height of the pandemic, 43 HPCs reported almost 1,500 telephonic calls between March 16 and May 24, 2020, with 67.4% of these calls stemming from “the psychological impact” of COVID-19. These statistics highlight the extent to which the pandemic exacerbated mental health conditions in the country.

Additionally, as the majority of the calls came from families and individuals with low incomes,  it is clear that the pandemic disproportionately impacts the impoverished. The brilliant work of HPCs, however, proved instrumental in minimizing the damage. Due to their phenomenal support, by the end of May 2020, calls to HPCs declined to a tenth of the number of calls made during the height of the pandemic two months before.

Another group that has done exceptional work in mitigating the country’s mental health difficulties during the pandemic is the Community Health Centre (CHC) Ljubljana. The WHO has praised CHC Ljubljana for its provision of strong primary mental health support during the pandemic, while also conducting research and development to ensure similar quality care is given long-term after the pandemic’s end. The CHC’s efforts include marginalized communities that are often overlooked in emergency relief efforts.

Overall, Slovenia is making significant efforts to address mental health afflictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the aim of improving mental health in Slovenia as a whole.

– Gabriel Sylvan
Photo: Flickr

Mental health awarenessMental health is an issue that, until recently, people shied away from talking about. While it can be a sensitive topic for people, it is one that society needs to talk about. By discussing mental health, people can help raise awareness of the issue. Celebrities are known to have an influence on their fans, so when they speak about a cause they care about, people tend to listen. Here are a few celebrities who are known mental health awareness advocates.

5 Celebrities Advocating for Mental Health Awareness

  1. Demi Lovato. Actor and singer Demi Lovato has frequently spoken about their struggles with mental illness. Lovato has been a mental health activist since 2015 when they revealed they were diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Wanting to help others struggling with mental illness, Lovato started the Mental Health Fund, which provides people with free counseling during the COVID-19 pandemic. In society, asking for help can be seen as a weakness. Lovato believes otherwise. In an interview with Deseret News, Lovato said, “The strongest thing someone can do is take that first step in getting help, whatever shape or form that is.” This charity raises money for the Crisis Text Line and crisis counseling options in Canada and the United Kingdom. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the public’s mental health so organizations like these have a significant impact on society.
  2. Kristen Bell. Actress Kristen Bell is a longtime and well-known advocate of mental health awareness. Fighting the stigma that surrounds mental illness, Bell believes mental health check-ins should be as common as going to the dentist or doctor. Bell has struggled with depression and has spoken about why mental health screenings should be taken more seriously. There are often stereotypes surrounding depression, but like Bell said in an interview with NAMI, “You can’t tell someone has depression just by looking at them, especially since it’s such an internal battle.” With celebrities like Bell speaking about their own struggles with mental illness, fans will better see that there is no shame in asking for help.
  3. Simone Biles. Simone Biles is the most awarded gymnast in history. The Olympian also has her own battles with mental illness. Biles goes to therapy on a regular basis and takes anxiety medication. These revelations arose after Biles stood up as a survivor of Larry Nassar’s abuse. Victims of sexual assault have an increased risk of developing PTSD, depression and anxiety. In 2017, Biles partnered with the #BeUnderstood campaign, which advocated for learning disabilities and ADHD awareness during the month of October. Biles has also spoken out about her experience with ADHD.
  4. Chyler Leigh. Chyler Leigh, known for her roles on Grey’s Anatomy and Supergirl, has not shied away from sharing her experiences with bipolar disorder. As the new face for the Be Vocal: Speak Up campaign, Leigh shared her experiences of growing up without a diagnosis. Leigh says that she did not have an environment where she could speak up, so she kept quiet. She also spoke about self-medicating with alcohol and the struggle she went through with getting help. Joining Be Vocal was a way of opening up to the public. By sharing her story, Leigh hoped for people to hear her experience and relate, knowing that they are not alone in feeling that way.
  5. Justin Bieber. In his YouTube docuseries “Seasons,” Justin Bieber gave his fans an inside look at his struggles with addiction and mental health challenges. His addiction to marijuana became so serious that he became dependent on it. He also spoke about his use of stronger substances like MDMA or hallucinogenic mushrooms. Bieber got help and replaced illegal substances with antidepressants. In his efforts to help advocate for mental health, Bieber gave a fan $100,000 to support her career in social work. Part of the donation helped the fan attend grad school while the rest of it went to Active Minds, an organization that raises mental health awareness for college students.

Global Mental Health

Though raising mental health awareness domestically is essential, there are many people without access to proper mental healthcare globally. As of 2016, high-income nations spent around 5% of their health budgets on mental health. For lower-middle-class nations, that number fell to less than 2%. There are fewer trained psychiatrists in developing countries, which makes it hard to address everyone’s illnesses.

In Indonesia, there was one psychiatrist for every 350,000 people. Haiti, a country with roughly 10 million people, has only about “10 licensed psychiatrists.” Without the proper funding, developing countries struggle to make mental health a priority.

Spreading Awareness

Mental health issues are very common in society, but they often do not spark the necessary discussion. Part of this reason is because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. Everyone is capable of contributing to mental health awareness. By posting about mental health on social media, donating to mental health organizations or supporting people with resources, an ordinary individual can contribute to improving mental health globally.

– Ariel Dowdy
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in IranAs the virus rapidly spread across countries, COVID-19 turned the whole world upside down. This inevitably brought many changes to people’s lives, from social interactions and daily activities to health concerns and working habits. The pandemic also heavily affected Iran. According to the Middle East Institute, the unemployment rate rose from 20% to 35% just a few months after the outbreak, providing some insight into the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iran.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Iran

The Iranian government has implemented several COVID-19 restrictions. According to Medical Press, the latest policies included the closure of non-essential shops, government buildings and banks. In addition, Iran implemented travel bans and the closure of some businesses to slow down the spread of the virus.

The pandemic has exacerbated Iran’s economic crisis and saturated its health system, with daily cases reaching a record of 39,600 as of August 8, 2021. With thousands of deaths and a declining economy due to government restrictions, many people experienced anxiety, stress, depression and other mental health issues. As the Mental Health Foundation states, “Poverty increases the risk of mental health problems and can be both a causal factor and a consequence of mental” illness.

Government restrictions, along with the other effects of the pandemic in the country, inevitably had an impact on people’s well-being. An International Journal of Mental Health Systems study showed that, during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Iranian population faced a significant mental health problem. In fact, about 15.1% and 20.1% of the general Iranian population, respectively males and females, experienced significant anxiety and depressive symptoms.

The numbers that emerged from the study show evident mental health impacts affecting a large portion of the population. However, the country might find some hope thanks to the Iranian government’s response.

Iran’s Response Plan

In this context, the Department for Mental Health and Substance Abuse of the Ministry of Health and Medical Education of the Islamic Republic of Iran established a plan to provide essential services for mental health, such as consultation support. The Ministry first implemented an assessment to determine the needs of Iran’s population regarding mental health and what the mental health system would need in the case of finances and infrastructure.

The identification of the population’s needs following the assessment resulted in the creation of training programs for mental care staff to best support the population. It also led to the implementation of several measures that prioritized the issues emerging from the collected data. Three weeks after the first outbreak of the pandemic, the Ministry of Health and Medical Education created a helpline across the national territory so that Iranians could have access to the essential services that mental health professionals provide. In the first nine months, the helpline received an average of 5,130 calls daily.

In addition, the government launched programs focusing on the well-being and mental state of COVID-19 survivors, such as psychological counseling sessions to support citizens facing mental repercussions after contracting the virus and people enduring significant losses due to the pandemic.

Mental Health Services in Iran and Digitalization

The pandemic inevitably led to great transformations, which include accelerating digitalization throughout the world. In Iran, mental health services reflected this change as these services adapted to meet social distancing policies. These services are, in fact, remote as well. In collaboration with the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, the government developed a virtual platform that guarantees easier access to psychological support and mental health care. The government established the platform along with the helpline, in order to support those in need of deeper psychiatric mental care and people with significant anxiety and depression issues.

To recover from the COVID-19 crisis, mental health interventions are important. As a World Health Organization (WHO) report states, “Previous experiences from other crises have confirmed that timely mental health intervention is critical for medical staff caring for patients, in this case, those affected by COVID-19.” Mental health issues can, in fact, significantly affect the confidence and skills of medical staff. In addition to the physical impacts of COVID-19, the mental conditions fueled by poverty in Iran require addressing to ensure the well-being of Iranian citizens across the country.

The implementation of a series of policies focusing on mental health in Iran reflects a positive move toward an efficient and steady recovery from the pandemic’s social and economic crisis. Through continued work, measures could reduce the overall impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iran.

– Arianna Pappone
Photo: Flickr