Every 10th of October, World Mental Health Day is celebrated in an effort to inform, spread awareness, and bring attention to topics related to mental health. This day was first celebrated in the beginning of the 1990’s. It was also around this time that Brazil undertook a transformation of its mental health care system. Among the changes included in the country's reform were a reorganization of its financial model, a shift to a community-based care system, and an overall focus on transforming the way in which mental health conditions are seen and treated. Despite these efforts and the improvements achieved, Brazil is one of the countries most affected by mental health disorders in Latin America, with anxiety and depression disorders the mental health conditions with the highest disability-adjusted life years per 100,000 population in the country. In recent years, anxiety and anguish feelings have increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A trend occurring in every region of the country.
Mental health care in Brazil
What was rising in Brazil already before the pandemic is the number of licensed psychiatrists. While in 2013 around 7.6 thousand psychiatrists were registered in the South American country, this figure amounted to over 10 thousand in 2018 and to nearly 12 thousand in 2020. That is, however, less professionals than in other more common specialties such as internal medicine, pediatrics, and gynecology, but more than the number of dermatologists or otolaryngologists. These mental health professionals are not distributed evenly among regions. In fact, over half of all licensed psychiatrists in Brazil reside on the highly populated Southeast region, while only 2.3 percent do so in the less populated Northern region.
Beyond the number of psychiatrists, physical access to mental health care is relatively limited. According to a 2022 index, though Brazil achieved an overall mental health infrastructure score of 76 points out of 100, physical access to mental health care was rated with 53.6 points, compared to an 80 point rating in quality of mental health care. Additionally, certain groups of medicine used for treating mental health conditions tend to be more costly in Brazil than the global average. Medicine for PTSD and those for bipolar disorders, for instance, double in price, while other prescriptions might be slightly cheaper.
Mental health awareness
Access to and quality of mental health care are essential to overall wellbeing. Mental health was actually considered by more than three fourths of Brazilians taking part in a 2021 survey as equally important to physical health. A similar share acknowledged thinking about their mental health and wellbeing very or fairly often, and for 40 percent of them it was considered a top health care problem. Furthermore, according to a study carried out in 2022, over a third of Brazilians surveyed talked to friends and family about mental health issues, while around a quarter talked to a mental health professional or primary health care provider about the topic. While the reform of the system and an improvement in citizens’ awareness for mental health have been an important development, there is still room for it to fully translate into actual access and use of infrastructure. At the same time, creating frameworks to advance other social outcomes will also prove essential for enhancing peoples’ mental health.
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