Brazil, a country that many know for the luscious biodiversity in its Amazon rainforest, comprises over 211 million people, making it the second most populated country globally. Among the Brazilian population, around 68% is between the ages of 15-64, a target age range for both anxiety disorders and depression. Brazil leads in the world in terms of anxiety cases and ranks fifth for cases of depression, while access to public health support for treatment remains low. Here are six facts about anxiety, depression and mental health in Brazil.
6 Facts About Anxiety, Depression and Mental Health in Brazil
- People recognize mental health in Brazil as taboo. Individuals in Brazil often underestimate or even ignore the mental health suffering of those who are battling anxiety or depression. The Brazilian culture does not place an emphasis on mental health as Brazilians see the need to focus on treating physical ailments rather than seeking care for mental issues. Consequently, in high-stress environments such as in workplaces, employers do not recognize the need to take time off to prioritize mental health. Moreover, doctors handle the majority of patient concerns, leaving out the possibility of allowing a psychologist or psychiatrist to make informed health decisions.
- The focus on traditional work culture exacerbates anxiety and depression. Traditional Brazilian work culture values the workaholic employee. Although a large percentage of the population is aging, many individuals in Brazil remain employed and take on long shifts despite the burden it places on their quality of life. People believe the prevailing notion that social status and appearance provide a place in society. As a result, working long hours equate to limited time for family, friends and activities that would otherwise decrease the stress associated with one’s job. For example, with the COVID-19 pandemic, essential workers who remain active are facing higher rates of anxiety and depression given that the fear of contagion is their main source of stress.
- Worsening socioeconomic status increases the prevalence of mental health issues. Individuals growing up in households facing low socioeconomic status tend to have a higher risk of becoming depressed or experiencing an anxiety disorder. A study evaluated a cohort of young subjects between 10-18 years old and looked at the onset of symptoms of depression as well as their relationship to the socioeconomic status of the previous generation. The study concluded that there was a connection between family financial problems at an early age and depression at 18 years old, as a chronic cycle of adversities can become difficult to eradicate.
- Adolescents between ages 15-17 are at a heightened risk of experiencing a mental health issue. Approximately 7-12% of Brazilian children and adolescents suffer from a mental health issue and almost half of these cases are severe, meaning that they would require mental health care. Not only are anxiety disorders and depression highly stigmatized in Brazil, but adolescents already face a period of frailty and adaptation of physical, cultural and psychological changes. In fact, the search for identity and insertion into the world at this age creates a great burden of anxiety. When coupled with food insecurity, low socioeconomic status and limited education, the risk of mental health issues rapidly increases.
- Limited access to education affects mental health. In Brazil, adolescents whose mothers had fewer years of schooling had a higher prevalence of depressive and anxiety disorders than adolescents whose mothers had over eight years of schooling. Additionally, the lower a mother’s level of education, the greater chance that the students would feel lonely, have fewer friends and have trouble falling asleep due to constant worrying. Socioeconomic status also plays a role in determining whether or not a child can attend a school with a promising future in Brazil. Children of middle and upper-class families can afford the high tuition necessary to attend private schools, whereas families living in the country’s low-income housing, known as favelas, must send their children to public schools. In an attempt to reduce the education gap between public and private schools, the Foundation Institute for Economic Research founded a program called Tem+Matemática. The program joined students in public schools with tutors from a similar socioeconomic background as them, to prove that the educational challenges are surmountable.
- Declining mental health in Brazil remains a difficult problem to eradicate, however, some are taking measures to lessen its intensity. Through reform on a community basis, care continues to shift from institutions to community services and mental health services emerged in the form of psychosocial care centers, known as CAPS. The community services that CAPS offers help those with persistent and severe mental health issues through both individual and group assistance in the form of actions including therapeutic workshops, sports activities and family assistance. Brazil has grown its numbers of CAPS centers substantially since 1998, demonstrating a considerable expansion of access to mental health care. By fostering a sense of social inclusion, Brazilians struggling to cope with mental health issues can find a new sense of hope and support.
Although Brazil ranks fifth worldwide for depressive cases, organizations such as the Center for Valuing Life (CVV) are working toward improving outcomes for those suffering from depression. Given that the second leading cause of death among Brazilians aged between 15-29 is due to suicidal tendencies, the CVV provides those suffering from suicidal thoughts with assistance over the phone. To ensure accessibility, the service is available 24 hours a day. The CVV affirmed that their services have helped with cases every 43 minutes, promoting a service of help and acceptance.
– Sarah Frances