Health

Peru community mental health centers providing care, combating stigmas

By Paula Bayarte

Lima, Jun 2 (EFE).- Amid traffic chaos and the dust from a nearby hillside, a white and yellow building on the Peruvian capital’s southern outskirts is providing hope for mental health patients and their families and offering a desirable alternative to unwelcoming psychiatric hospitals.

“Our mission, and what we’ve been working on, is to reinsert the patient or user suffering from a mental health problem or disorder back into their community,” the head of the San Gabriel Alto Community Mental Health Center, Denisse Salas, told Efe.

The goal is to “reduce the stigmas” surrounding these conditions and for the general population “to understand that these are ordinary people who are suffering like anyone else and can be productive and be part of society.”

Located in the low-income district of Villa Maria del Triunfo, in Lima’s Cono Sur area, that center founded in 2015 was the first of 248 community health facilities to be built in the Andean nation.

“The idea of having these centers was that we had to (alleviate) patient saturation at the general hospitals, the large psychiatric hospitals,” the coordinator of mental health strategy at southern Lima’s Regional Health Directorate, Rolando Velasquez, told Efe.

Wait times for appointments used to be as long as four months and people often had to travel long distances within the capital for mental health care, obstacles that led many patients and families to abandon therapies and treatments.

Awareness in Peru of the need to prioritize these services dates back to the 1980s, Velasquez said, though adding that it was not until the first years of this century that a concrete plan was mapped out.

“It was determined that we needed to reach out to the community. No longer would they have to come to us, but we’d (go to them),” he added.

The San Gabriel Alto center provides treatment to patients suffering from depression and anxiety, children with learning difficulties, people with addictions, psychosis or other serious psychiatric illnesses and victims of all different types of violence.

Social reinsertion objectives also are a big part of the work carried out at that center, which offers occupational and speech therapy and a range of workshops to help people become productive members of society.

Both Salas and Velasquez attribute the success of these centers to the involvement of local residents.

“The community has taken an interest … Our goal is for them to understand that mental health is not only our responsibility” but one that the community itself must assume, the health coordinator said.

Besides attending to patients, the center also raises awareness about mental health and identifies and locates people suffering from different types of conditions or violence who are in need of treatment.

Salas told Efe that although the task of treating numerous, complex mental health issues may seem daunting from the outside, that small center is well equipped to respond to the community’s needs.

“We have a multi-disciplinary team of family doctors, psychiatrists, palliative care nurses, psychologists, psychotherapists for adults and children, social workers,” as well as professionals who treat victims of violence at a special module that was set up during the pandemic due to a spike in cases of physical abuse in domestic settings, she said.

Velasquez, for his part, said the pandemic “exposed a reality that was very hidden” in terms of different mental health problems that had gone untreated.

He added that amid the sharp increase in cases of depression, anxiety and intrafamily violence, communities needed these types of spaces that offered a ray of hope amid their despair. EFE

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