Mental health in Colombia: How big is the problem

Based on these considerations and a broader assessment of health needs, MSF opened a clinic in Sincelejo in early 2005, providing basic health care and psychosocial services. MSF also offers psychosocial services through mobile clinics in remote rural areas across Colombia.

 

Colombia's National Study on Mental Health (2003), is the only government-sponsored survey on the mental health status of the Colombian population. It reported a prevalence of any mental disorder over a year period of 16%.

The sample of population chosen for that study was mainly urban, with reasonable levels of education and employment, and living in fixed house holds. The national study does not focus specifically on those who bear the brunt of the violence generated by the conflict in Colombia: the rural poor, the displaced, and those living in urban slums.

In October 2004, MSF conducted a survey in order to assess the prevalence of mental distress in 13 slums around the city of Sincelejo. The prevalence of common mental disorders found by the MSF study was 27.6%, significantly higher than that reported in the government survey.

Urban neighborhoods of low socio-economic status and hosting relatively high numbers of the displaced are much worse off than suggested by the general figures of the national study.

Although we can not exclude that poverty or social issues have an influence on the results, there are reasons to believe that the levels of violence accompanying the experience of displacement are the main explanatory reason behind the higher prevalence found by MSF.

There is an urgent need to prioritise mental health care for those who suffer the direct impact of violence. Currently, psychological and psychiatric consultations are not available in the wide majority of the municipalities across the country. Even in departmental capitals with second level hospitals and institutions, the situation is not necessarily better. In the provincial capital of Sincelejo, for instance, there is only one psychiatrist and one psychologist working for the Ministry of Health, who are responsible for the needs of the entire province (a total population of more than 885,000 people).

Based on these considerations and a broader assessment of health needs, MSF opened a clinic in Sincelejo in early 2005, providing basic health care and psychosocial services. MSF also offers psychosocial services through mobile clinics in remote rural areas across Colombia.