Mental health: a problem hidden behind the smile

SANTIAGO – Suicide seems on the rise, notably in Santiago, which recently experienced metro rail suicides in short order. Several studies confirm that citizens’ mental health is becoming more complicated. Still, a UN study revealed Chile as the happiest country in South America.

News has become awash with stories about citizens committing suicide by throwing themselves in front of a metro train. A sad day, on March 18, in less than 12 hours, two Santiaguinos killed themselves this way.

Online newspaper El Desconcierto reported “the first occurred at La Moneda station around 2pm and the second at 7pm at San José de la Estrella station of Line 4, which caused the collapse of the metro during peak hours.”

But these cases are not isolated. In February, a man took his life also on Line 4 of the capital’s subway.

Mental health

The suicides have pushed mental health into the public limelight.

According to the Center for the Study of Conflict and Social Cohesion (Coes), one in five Chileans deal with depression. A 2016 study from Universidad de Chile found that 80% of Chileans suffer untreated psychiatric illnesses, and local media reported that the OECD found Chile’s suicide rate has exploded – currently 10.6 per 100,000 – trailing only South Korea, which has a notoriously high suicide rate.

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A complex panorama

Danae Sinclaire, psychiatrist at Universidad de Chile and director of the Creando Salud (Creating Health) foundation, told Chile Today that Chile is going through a “complex panorama” in terms of mental health. According to her, “20% of people in Chile suffer some pathology of mental health, but only about 7% receive treatment.

Sinclaire diagnoses a “lack of commitment from the state,” since “only 2.7% of the health budget is allocated to mental health, and that is also mainly for the coverage of Fonasa [public system] patients.” For private healthcare patients “the situation is even more precarious,” as “most Isapre [private system] plans have very low coverage of mental health pathologies, do not cover psychotherapy…and neither the cost of drugs. In the end only public health patients have a little better coverage than private ones.”

Sinclaire said various factors create the rise in mental health problems. Among them count “long working days and low salaries, which increase stress and decrease pleasant activities and sleep time, low levels of social cohesion and low social protection by the state.”

But “lack of physical activity, bad eating habits, high rates of alcohol and drug use and violence in the population” equally contribute.

Chilean idiosyncrasy

Luis Ortiz, a mental health specialist, told Chile Today that mental health problems stem from “the idiosyncrasies of Chileans.” They “keep everything [to themselves], do not externalize problems and also seek help late, so this leads them to take these terrible determinations [suicide].”

In his view, a solution “must involve greater attention to mental health problems, in all areas,” that is the “health system as a whole, must focus on improving these issues.” But not only the health sector should be more prepared: “We must educate all professionals in Chile, to know how to treat cases like these and above all educate the population.”

Depressed but happy

Yet, Chile continues to appear as one of the happiest countries in South America, at least according to the UN’s latest “Annual Report on Happiness.”

The report has Chile in 26th position worldwide, with 6,444 points, surpassing Brazil, which ranked at 32, Uruguay (33), and Colombia (43).

According to CNN Chile, the report evaluated the quality of life in 156 countries and focused on “how happiness has changed over the past 12 years and how information technology, government and social norms influence communities.” In addition, the report evaluated other variables such as “the efficiency of governments, social support, corruption, life expectancy and levels of education.”

If your thoughts revolve around suicide and/or if you are experiencing mental or emotional health problems, or know someone who does, you can find expert help calling the health ministry’s Salud Responde (Health Answers) hotline.

Todo Mejora (Everything Gets Better) foundation offers advice via its website and has a Facebook chat for immediate help.

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