Policies related to mental health in Latin America continue to be a back-and-forth struggle between political parties, legislation and social stigmas.
Over the last 10 years, Latin America has battled to better its mental health services, however, significant obstacles persist. Social stigmas prove to have the most negative consequences on those who suffer from mental illness. Stigmas around mental health in Latin America specifically revolve around the person’s personal life and their “lack” of productivity at work, both of which are heavily emphasized in society. Stereotypes and prejudices about mental illness often focus on the unpredictability of the illness, including capacities for violence and endangering those around them.
Originally, Latin American mental health policies shared the same overall attitude as the society did: lack of proper planning and institutions were not necessarily important. That attitude changed with the Declaration of Caracas in 1990 which implemented the following reforms in regional mental-health policies:
- To anchor mental health within primary care services
- To develop community-based mental health services
- To reduce the stigma associated with mental illness
Organizations that Implement Policy
Since then, several organizations have emerged to help align the reforms with practices.
Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)
The Pan American Health Organization protects and improves people’s health by acting as the international health agency for the Americas. It believes in supporting everyone’s right to good health by providing access to healthcare when they need it. This is done by:
- Promoting technical cooperation between countries
- Partnering with ministries of health, civil society organizations, other international agencies, universities, and other institutions.
Its mental health program works within the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health (NMH) to promote and strengthen national abilities to develop the following areas in order to improve mental well being:
World Health Organization Assessment Instrument for Mental Health Systems (WHO-AIMS)
WHO-AIMS works in Latin America and the Caribbean to promote, maintain and restore mental health. Its plan is derived from 10 overall recommendations from the 2001 World Health Report:
- Provide treatment of mental disorders in primary care
- Make psychotropic drugs available
- Give care in the community
- Educate the public
- Involve communities, families, and consumers in the treatment process
- Establish national policy and legislation
- Develop supportive human resources
- Link with other sectors
- Monitor community mental health
- Provide resources for more research
This organization focuses mainly on financing the investigations to find which obstacles affect mental health services the most. Since its implementation in Latin America, there has been a 30 percent increase in the creation of mental health policies, as its focus evolved to a more positive trend of protecting human rights.
Negative stigmas will continue to circulate around mental health in Latin America as the lack of knowledge and understanding surrounding mental illnesses persist. Organizations like the ones listed previously will continue to work against these stigmas and encourage understanding through education.
– Chylene Babb