Mental Health Care in Guatemala
Only 0.9% of the Guatemala’s health budget is dedicated to mental health… there are 0.57 psychiatrists and 0.35 psychologists per 100,000 residents.
written by Alejandro Paiz, M.D.
Recent data reveals that at least 28 percent of Guatemalans suffer from some kind of mental disorder during their lifetime. Multiple factors contribute to this condition, including genetic predisposition, children and adults who were subjected to poor parenting, and the consequences of psycho-social and environmental impact on daily life.
Natural disasters, poor infrastructure and the civil war that ended in December 1996 created deep and severe emotional consequences for thousands of families, and there is the everyday violence that affects Guatemala and keeps the people in a constant state of fear and alert. In Sololá, for example, many of our patients suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Guatemala has not addressed mental health issues in terms of providing legislation or adapting a national policy. However, a strategic plan was developed in 2007 that focused on building a culture of mental health based on healthy life styles and providing mental health services within communities.
Roadblocks to providing mental health care are obvious: the lack of human resources (0.57 psychiatrists and 0.35 psychologists per 100,000 residents), most heavily populated in Guatemala City; and the lack of economic resources (0.9 percent of the nation’s health budget is dedicated to mental health, 90 percent of this budget funds the national hospital in Guatemala City).
Recently, an effort has begun to decentralize mental health services and offer local quality care. Besides the National Hospital of Mental Health and two big general hospitals in Guatemala City, there are now five health facilities outside the city —in Petén, Sololá, Chimaltenango, Cuilapa and Jutiapa—that have a psychiatrist on staff. At least 20 health service centers around the country have an attending psychologist.
These mental health teams are dedicated to providing clinical attention to patients of all ages with special attention to community advocacy, socialization and sensibility.