How COVID-19 has Impacted Mental Health in Argentina

Mental Health in Argentina
Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have intensified mental health problems worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) published a scientific brief in 2022 showing a 25% increase in global anxiety and depression in the first year of the pandemic. Government response to mental health in Argentina during the pandemic reveals a crucial transitioning of its medical system.

Mental Health in Argentina – The Numbers

In 2015, Argentina’s Ministry of Health funded a survey that found that only about one in three people above the age of 18 with mental disorders receive treatment. The Ministry of Health administered approximately 4,000 household surveys to adults with fixed residences in Argentina’s largest urban areas. Researchers conducted the survey using the World Mental Health Composite International Diagnostic Interview, a comprehensive assessment of mental health that WHO designed. Individuals with low education and income were the least likely to receive treatment, according to the survey.

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated higher levels of stress and anxiety for many. A 2020 study by researchers at the University of Buenos Aires focused on the effects of Argentina’s mandatory quarantine on mental health in the wake of the pandemic. Researchers studied participants using online surveys on days 7-11 (from March 27 to 31, 2020) and days 50-55 (May 8 to 12, 2020) of the nationwide quarantine. The survey results indicated a rise in the percentage of participants with symptom indicators and suicidal thoughts between period 1 and period 2.

The relationship between poverty and mental health in Argentina is bidirectional. Just as mental health problems increased in the last couple of years, Argentina’s poverty level rose to 42% in 2020 according to The World Bank. Since 2018, the nation has been facing a severe recession that has led to a steep devaluation of the Argentine peso. The uncertainty surrounding this economic crisis and the ongoing pandemic draws concern for the mental and physical well-being of the approximately 11.7 million citizens who live in poverty.

Developments in Mental Health Care

Support for mental health in Argentina has been undergoing a transformation following the approval of the Mental Health Law in 2010. Argentina’s health care system is gradually transitioning from hospital-based to community-based care, placing focus on human rights and patient protection. The government implemented this law when public psychiatric hospitals still made up 89% of available in-patient beds, according to a study by the Ministry of Health.

The Mental Health Law is beneficial as it offers a shift from psychiatric hospitalization to community care, but certain socio-economic disparities exist between urban and rural areas that hinder some from getting the support they deserve. Argentina has the highest number of psychologists per capita in the world, but nearly half of them live in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital city. Many rural residents have less access to support systems or health professionals than those living in the cities.

Argentina’s New Mental Health Strategy

In April 2022, President Alberto Fernández addressed the effects of COVID-19 on mental health and offered a solution. Fernández and health minister Carla Vizzotti announced the implementation of the National Mental Health Strategy, aiming for an all-inclusive “recovery of society.” The plan includes major health care budgetary raise from 3.7 to 7.7 billion pesos, a 107% increase. The National Mental Health Strategy aims to expand Telehealth and community-based programs to serve the public. Fernández’ presented The National Mental Health Strategy alongside the inauguration of the Bonaparte Children’s Hospital and Adolescent’s Service.

Following the conference, Vizzotti met with the Federal Council of Mental Health and Addictions (COFESAMA) to address the federal strategy. Leaders from around the country analyzed the pivotal goals of the strategy, such as a “nationwide territorial operation for the promotion, prevention and care of community mental health.” The Ministry of Health has not yet announced when it will implement these plans and policies.

Looking to the Future

Argentina’s progressive outlook on mental health has led to some crucial developments for its medical system. Still, the Argentinian government needs to make efforts to breach disparities that exist for those with low income and low access to treatment, especially in Argentina’s rural regions. The National Mental Health Strategy’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion sets a hopeful precedent for Argentina’s future in health care.

– Evan Lemole
Photo: Pixabay