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America has depression but devotes few resources to fighting it

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If America had problems with mental health before the pandemic, COVID-19 has aggravated the situation, causing high rates of depression and psychological illnesses that in most cases are not treated due to lack of funding.

“From the beginning we already thought that this was going to affect it even more and that the problems were going to increase, but these were only predictions. Now we have confirmed those predictions,” the director of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Unit of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Renato Oliveira e Souza, explains to Efe.

However, the doctor believes that we are at the best time to change this trend, since everyone has suffered the psychological impact of confinements and societies are much more willing to openly deal with the issue.

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That is why PAHO is committed to giving priority to mental health in its recommendations to governments, and has recently created a High-Level Commission for Mental Health and COVID-19 to guide the region in its recovery.

His main claim: increase funding.

No money for treatments

America is a continent that traditionally spends very little on mental health.

According to PAHO data, of the entire budget that the countries of the continent dedicate to health, they only allocate an average of 3% to this type of care.

And this despite the fact that depressive disorders rank second among the diseases that cause more years of disability.

The funding gap, however, is much larger in lower income countries, with Haiti, Bolivia and Peru at the bottom of the list.

This situation has been made worse by the pandemic, as many governments have been forced to redirect resources to COVID units or even limit the services they offer in order to reduce the number of people coming to hospital.

According to Oliveira e Souza, the arguments in favor of dedicating more funding to mental health are not only health-related, but also economic, since increasing investment reduces spending in other areas and can even have an impact on the local economy. .

The PAHO expert recalled in this regard that when a patient suffers from an illness, they can recover faster if they do not have psychological problems.

In the same way, he assured that there are studies that show that a person with good mental health “can better provide for his family.”

A long way to go

The continent has a long way to go and the data is not encouraging. An example: of all the people who suffer from a mental disorder, more than 70% will never receive treatment.

This is explained, in part, because most of the resources devoted to mental health in the region are usually directed at psychiatric hospitals, where patient stays often exceed five years.

Both PAHO and the World Health Organization recommend that care for patients with psychological problems be done in primary care centers and general hospitals, which are more integrated into the communities. That makes it easier for more people to ask for help.

According to this expert, there should also be a greater integration of psychological care in daily life, especially in schools and companies.

“People spend most of their time working, so the workplace is a very good place to include psychosocial support services as part of what companies offer their employees,” advises the expert.

This integration of mental health in the institutions of daily life is at the core of the strategy proposed by PAHO to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and rebuild a healthier society. But there are times when mitigation is not enough.

suicides on the rise

One of the areas of greatest importance to PAHO is suicide prevention, since, before COVID-19, the Americas was one of the regions in the world where the total rate was on the rise – it has risen 17% in the last 20 years -.

“We already knew that the pandemic was going to affect the risk factors: unemployment, the increase in mental health problems…”, explains the doctor.

However, it is not clear what effect lockdowns and job insecurity have had on the suicide rate, as the data received by PAHO varies greatly depending on the country where it is collected.

The organization is preparing a report that it hopes to publish in the coming months in which it will analyze all the data collected over the last two years.

But even without having the answers yet, the doctor calls for action to prevent suicide and speak openly about this problem.

“This is a time when we should all be alert” and talking about the risk of suicide helps governments “be aware of the importance of reinforcing their prevention networks,” he said.

Source: Gestion

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