The Odyssey of Latin America’s Youth to Access Mental Health Care in a Pandemic

Image courtesy of Centro Latinoamericano Investigación Periodística (CLIP).

Image courtesy of El Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación Periodística (CLIP).

It is during youth when people define who they are, spending time with friends, at parties, at school, through first sexual relations, exploring places they didn’t know before. For that reason, experts say, it is the time when they face the highest risk of experiencing emotional trauma.

Young people suffered the most under the government quarantines ordered by Colombia, Argentina, and Ecuador to limit the spread of COVID-19. The uncertainty of the future mixed with the massive job loss in the region. Many experienced depression, anxiety, and lost the meaning of life. Others who already had emotional issues, such as eating disorders, experienced severe setbacks.

The response from these three governments to ensure emotional care was insufficient, although with nuances. Argentina managed to more professionally and personally provide assistance for the people who called into the hotlines; in Ecuador psychology students were the ones who responded to most of the calls, and Colombia promised a web-based system of 2,500 volunteer psychologists that was never realized.

The 750 students who participated in Activamente, a journalistic community engagement project led by El Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación Periodística and its partners, confirmed the deficiencies found in the government response. It is not easy to talk about emotional concerns in these countries, but those who built the courage were faced with poor quality of service and lack of appointments. Instead, they turned to their family and friends, to yoga, and meditation. And it principally were civil society organizations and university services that better served those who could not pay for private therapists.

Even though the international scientific community and the World Health Organization quickly issued warnings that the quarantines would have significant psychological effects in the long run, the governments never prioritized—and continue to not prioritize—the urgent mental health care needs of young people.

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