SANTIAGO – Mental health problems (or at least acknowledgments of these problems) are on the rise in Chile. Among the at-risk groups are university students. Several factors come into play, including academic overload and the fear of disclosing that one is struggling.
Mental health problems caused by stress and a fast-paced life are on the rise in Chile, according to the Sociedad Chilena de Salud Mental (Chilean Mental Health Society). In fact, the Society reports that 23% of Chileans had some sort of disorder in this regard in 2018.
At present, however, the focus on these problems has been on young people, especially university students, who are overwhelmed by the pace of studies and are presenting with problems and diseases linked to mental health.
In recent years, the welfare units of Chilean universities and student federations have detected an increase in the demand for care associated with mental health issues.
According to the First National Survey of University Mental Health of Chile, published in April 2019, and which surveyed 600 students from three university campuses (Universidad Católica in Temuco, Concepción, and Tarapacá):
- 44% of the respondents had to resort to professional psychological help.
- 46% said they had depressive symptoms and signs of anxiety.
- 54% said they were under stress.
- 33% said they went to therapy to solve these problems.
- 11% said they were currently under some form of treatment or another.
The survey also identified behaviors that contributed to the students’ mental health issues:
- 87% said they had bad eating habits.
- 24% said that they consume alcohol one to four times per week.
- 67% said they suffered from insomnia or slept during the day.
Last April, students of the Faculty of Architecture of the Universidad de Chile participated in an organized protest, in which they called out their excessive academic load.
As reported by the students, their mental instability has been caused by the excessive academic burden of university life in Chile. They also said that thus far in 2019, there have been at least two suicide attempts by students, which were caused by stress, anxiety, and depression.
An Accumulation of Factors
Among the main factors identified as causing these problems in university students are the long hours of study and numerous sleepless nights, in addition to the high levels of competition within the universities.
Ana Barrera, psychologist at the Universidad Católica of Temuco and in charge of the aforementioned survey, said in a conversation with Diario UdeChile that personal and family life issues also add to the picture. She also stressed that “nationally, we have a large outstanding debt in terms of mental health. There is currently a mental health plan, but there is no mental health law. ”
What often makes matters worse is that the vast majority of students who present with these problems are reluctant to report them and ask for help. As noted by the Universidad de Chile, “one of the reasons for this silence is the fear of possible discrimination that they may suffer.” “[T]he idea still persists that these are exaggerations that could be resolved with character and discipline.”
Talking about the subject awhile back, President Sebastián Piñera offered his own analysis: “Today children are sent to the psychologist, they are given all kinds of medications. In my time, … a kick in the pants was the best and holy remedy. And also free.”
Official figures show that for the last ten years, there has been an increase in people above 60 years living alone in Chile, a number that correlates to the increasing suicide rates in this group.
Nelson Quiroz is Chile Today´s photographer. He also writes about youth culture and fashion, and often contributes with photo series during marches and protests.