Mental health in Peru is a topic that has gained more attention in recent years, leading to significant research findings and help from government efforts and NGOs alike. This is especially important as mental disorders are present in 20% of adult Peruvians. This number increases to 20.7% in kids older than 12 years old.
Schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and alcohol dependence were the most common disorders detected at a national level. Women more frequently receive diagnoses of depression, while alcoholism and substance abuse affect more men. Moreover, yearly suicide rates are higher than ever before, with 31% of the total number of suicides in Peru taking place in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
Past traumatic experiences, environmental stressors and poverty are the main factors for developing mental health problems. Traumatic experiences in Peru mostly stem from domestic violence and the internal armed conflict that took place from 1980 to 2000. These issues make victims more vulnerable to developing mental health conditions, especially if these experiences are situated in a person’s formative years, as in the case of abused children.
Childhood Trauma in Peru
In Peru, 68.9% of children aged 9 to 11 and 78% of children aged 12 to 17 have suffered psychological or physical abuse at least once in their lives. Additionally, 67.6% of women aged 18 or older have suffered from psychological, physical and/or sexual violence. In a survey from 2019, 46.1% of respondents stated they believe parents have the right to physically punish their children and 33.2% of respondents stated that they agree with the statement that unfaithful women should receive some sort of punishment from their partner.
Peru’s internal armed conflict of the 1980s is a particular source of trauma for some Peruvians since an approximate total of 69,280 people died or went missing during the conflict. The loss of loved ones, fear, distrust and the resulting sense of hypervigilance can lead to anxiety disorder and/or substance abuse. Research confirms this connection by finding a higher prevalence of anxiety and alcoholism among adults in Peru’s rural areas. These outcomes are not surprising, given that 79% of the conflict’s victims resided in Peru’s rural areas.
Outside of abuse and conflict, environmental stress also has negative repercussions for both the mind and body. Noise and proximity to street residue are the main contributors to environmental stress in Lima, Peru’s capital. Lima’s lowest income districts have less efficient trash management services, putting its residents at a higher exposure to garbage on the street. On the other hand, psychosocial stressors stem from Peruvians’ fear of crime, violence, poverty and concerns regarding their health that lead to feelings of worry, sadness, anger and discontent.
Improving Mental Health in Peru
The Peruvian government is actively working on making mental health care services more accessible for all citizens. The Health Ministry (MINSA) has 248 active Community Mental Health Centers, which are establishments specialized in mental illnesses and psychosocial problems. Furthermore, the MINSA developed Central 113, a hotline that health professionals operate to provide medical information and guidance. This hotline is accessible 24/7, and option #5 is dedicated to psychology and mental health. Both state approaches are free of charge.
Moreover, the government approved the Health Ministry’s Guidelines for Mental Health Care during COVID-19. This document expands on children’s mental health with an added focus on COVID-19 and its effects. It highlights issues such as childhood abuse (physical and psychological) as a major cause for future mental health problems and it offers advice such as respecting a child’s individuality, encouraging them to freely express their emotions and limiting the amount of information they are prone to consume through the internet. The document calls for a nationwide, multidisciplinary application of the guidelines, from health institutions to regional and local governments and even police departments.
At the international level, Partners in Health is a social justice organization that has provided women with free mental health services. Its care plan offers therapy for trans women and in 2015, it constructed a safe house in Lima for all women living with schizophrenia. In 2022, 6,219 women received treatment through their Mental Health Programme.
Mental health in Peru has earned more attention in recent years. It is a broad topic, with mental health problems stemming from reasons that are mostly country or region specific. Thankfully, the Health Ministry is actively contributing to mental health research and providing solutions such as Central 113 and the development of the Community Mental Health Centers. In addition, NGOs such as Partners in Health are making mental health services more accessible across the country. With continued efforts from external and state organizations, hopefully more Peruvians can look forward to improved wellbeing in the years to come.
– Luciana Mena