The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has approved a new regional strategy to improve mental health and suicide prevention in America, including the Caribbean.
The goal is to mobilize resources to respond to the demand for care and address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the increased prevalence of mental health issues and related disruptions in essential services.
The new strategy, “Strategy for Improving Mental Health and Suicide Prevention in the Region of the Americas,” aims to guide PAHO member states in providing mental health care.
The strategy considers the national context, needs, and priorities and promotes an equitable and rights-based approach to mental health care.
Dr. Anselm Hennis, director of the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health at PAHO, said, “Even before the pandemic, we were already facing a significant burden of mental illnesses with inadequate care for those affected, which was further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This strategy aims to support countries to prioritize mental health by integrating it into all policies.”
According to the document, the pandemic has worsened pre-existing mental health conditions, such as major depressive and anxiety disorders, which increased by 35 and 32 percent, respectively during 2020 in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Each year, almost 100,000 people die by suicide in the Americas, making it the only World Health Organization (WHO) region where the suicide rate is on the rise.
Women, young people, indigenous populations, Afro-descendants, and members of other ethnic groups, as well as people living in poverty and those with preexisting mental health disorders, are among the most severely affected.
However, funding for addressing mental health is insufficient, with only a small fraction of national health budgets, around three percent, allocated to this area. The regional strategy establishes six lines of action to address this issue.
These include building mental health leadership, governance, and multi-sectoral partnerships, improving the availability, accessibility, and quality of community-based services for mental health conditions, supporting the advancement of deinstitutionalization, advancing mental health promotion and prevention strategies and activities throughout the life course, reinforcing the integration of mental health and psychosocial support in emergency contexts, and strengthening data, evidence, and research.
Additionally, the strategy aims to make suicide prevention a national whole-of-government priority and build multi-sectoral capacity to respond to people affected by suicidal behaviors.
The strategy is underpinned by the recommendations of the PAHO High-Level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19, whose final report will be published in June 2023.