Latin Americans Mental Health

The report reviews on population studies of children and adolescent mental health made in Latin America over the past 15 years. Also the studies considered the issue of how to meet the needs of children and adolescents who may present mental health problems in Latin America, given that most of them live in poverty in economies that are underdeveloped, providing limited resources.

Ten studies from six different places or countries were identified that employed some form of randomized sampling method and used identical standard instruments for assessment. The authors of the study report present a summary of the main characteristics of these studies, highlighting methodological features that may account for differences in the rates obtained. Overall results of the studies were a similar pattern of prevalence and risk factors for mental health problems in children and adolescents in Latin American countries emerged. Also the rates of mental health disorders in these children are similar to the 15 to 20% found in other countries.

These findings of the studies on mental health are similar to those observed when adult mental health problems are considered. Prevention and effective treatment strategies are discussed and the peculiarities of the delivery of mental health services for children and adolescents are explored. Future research on the mental health issue in Latin America needs to focus on understanding of resilience and formal and informal mental health delivery systems of care available in different Latin American countries. Such studies have high potential for ameliorating the prevention and treatment of child and adolescent mental health problems in this region of the world.

Among the most urgent requirements of mental health operations in Latin America, the following are included, more support of provision of care, training and research through inter-sectorial alliances and initiatives; integration of mental health and primary care services and fostering of promotion and prevention activities; increase of the mental health workforce with multidisciplinary bases and appropriate geographic distribution; sharing and dissemination of applied research findings from collaborative centers of excellence in the region; implementation and improvement of effective mental health policies aimed at an adequate distribution of resources, establishment of priorities, and increased public sophistication on mental health matters; financial collaboration and technical support from international agencies and organizations.

However, the majority of Latin American countries, devote less than 2% of their total mental health budget, thus compounding a dismal picture already affected by everyday stresses of all kinds, from massive internal migrations to a 'hidden epidemic' of domestic violence or from socio-political unrest to the ever-present risk of natural disasters. Also the precarious budget allocations are primarily even devoted to long-term cases, leaving meager resources for ambulatory care.

This study was actually aggravated by deeply rooted cultural characteristics, particularly those related to shame and guilt in the perception of cases of mental illness among families, distorted help-seeking patterns, religious and folk beliefs about causes and treatment, and the sheer unavailability of appropriate mental health services. The latter leads to apparent violations of human rights of patients and families, even more evident if issues such as blatant deficiencies in the physical plants of psychiatric facilities where patients are housed, or an assortment of insults to their human dignity, the quality of food or cover, anonymity, overt or covert mistreatment, social neglect, lack of organized activity are taken into account.