Breaking stigmas. Mental Health Means Social Gain

7 activities that help prevent depression
12 April, 2017

Breaking stigmas. Mental Health Means Social Gain

Mental illness is not a personal failure, nor is it something that only happens to others. We all remember the time, not too far away, when we could not speak openly about cancer; it was a family secret. There are still many of us today who do not want to talk about AIDS. Little by little we have been breaking down these barriers. The motto of World Health Day 2001 was “Mental health: yes to attention, not to exclusion”. These “were the words of the director general of the World Health Organization Gro Harlem Brundtland in 2001.

Mental illnesses have always been related to insane asylums and madmen who are tied to stretchers in some Hollywood movies, but they are not. Currently, according to studies carried out in 2001, in the research “Prevalence of depression and factors associated with it in the Colombian population,” which is still in force, says depression is the major cause of years lost due to disability (APD) .

But this is not the most worrisome; Ignorance of mental illness causes them not to be treated and seen as a simple personality trait or a problem that the person is going through.  According to Dr. Oscar Rico, a psychiatrist at Pinares Mind and Health, the problem is not based on the number of people suffering from mental health problems, but that they are not treated, and for this reason, the life quality is not only reduced to the patient but to his relatives

Mental Illness

It is necessary to know the diseases and processes that are carried out. Mental illnesses are highly dependent on age. Attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder, and oppositional defiant disorders are the most common, as well as mental retardation and autism in the child and young person up to the age of 17, although not the only ones.

In the adult stage the most frequent are all anxious disorders and affective disorders, where depression and bipolar disorder are found. Alcoholism and drug addiction are also considered mental illnesses, which is currently one of the most known and suffered by adults. In old age the most known is Alzheimer, however, this is not the only mental disorder happening at this age.

The main mental illness from all mentioned above is depression, which according to studies conducted by the World Health Organization in the report Mental Health: New knowledge, New hopes, by the year 2020 depression will be the second leading cause of morbidity in the world, after cardiovascular diseases.

Origin of mental illness

The origin or cause of  a mental illness has several components. In most cases there must be a neurobiological factor, that is, genetics; There are people more likely and more at risk of suffering some mental illness in their life. Another part is the social factor, the issues that each individual has in their life, education, the place where they live and their environment. There is also an important factor that is reflected in the personality, the structure and the way of being; There are personalities who are more likely to suffer from some kind of mental illnesses, for example someone who has a borderline personality, i.e. , is not able to control their emotions, is strongly prone to depression or bipolarity.

Although it has several components, mental illnesses are always multifactorial, that is, it does not have a single cause, it will always be a neurobiological factor and a social factor that shows or manifests the disease. An example of this is when a person suffers the loss of a loved one or the rupture of a relationship, which in many cases it is surpassed by itself, but if the person is genetically prone to depression or other mental illness, then after this event, he or she has to be treated and medicated by a psychiatrist.


The treatment of mental illness generally must be integral, that is, it needs several professionals, like family medics, psychologists, social workers, and of course, a psychiatrist. This is because the psychiatric patient often has a couple problems, economic problems, loss of loved ones, or other very serious social problems.

It is not only about medicating, but about treating all the factors that cause the disease, which is why it involves several people, sometimes including police stations. Police and family welfare are also part of the process.

Most of the mentally ill require some pharmacological treatment, which is guided by the psychiatrist. For some patients this treatment is only for a limited time, but in other cases, the drugs should be taken for life. Only the psychiatrist who accompanies the treatment can suspend it.

Thus, when the psychiatric patient is controlled and the treatment is successful, the individual is fully functional and manages to have a good quality of life, even if he is suffering from schizophrenia.

Social Issues

“Mental health is highly stigmatized, the psychiatric patient is often rejected. If you say you go to a psychiatrist or a mental health hospital they’ll say that you are crazy, will ask for the reason  are going there, raise some question and a lot of sentences that in reality are ignorance, because mental illness is not cured with attitude, because it does exist. ” Juan Esteban Arcila, Doctor and student of psychiatry at the Universidad del Bosque, said.

In Medellín, the challenge is to de-stigmatize the mental illnesses. According to the Psychiatrist and director of the Center for Mental Health, people are already understanding the importance of good mental health, social well-being and a stable mood.

The ignorance and stigma towards mental health is what makes so many patients, and without treatment. Another cause and problem is that the health system does not give the corresponding importance to the whole mental health subject, there is no budget for programs to promote and prevent these diseases.

For these reasons, it is not possible to see the impact that mental health has on people, because if it is not done well, people suffer, the quality of life decreases and with it that of all those around.

In that sense, it is necessary for all people to know the risk factors that cause mental health problems. Juan Esteban Arcila, talked said as well as there are risk factors for being hypertensive like cigarette smoking, fat or not exercising; there are also risk factors that make the mind sick, such as dysfunctional families, work stress, lack of exercise and consumption of substances such as alcohol and drugs.


On November 14th, 1990, it was stated in the Declaration of Caracas that mental hospitals should not be asylums, and that is what they have tried to implement throughout Latin America.

When mental hospitals are only of psychiatry as the only modality of care, they generate more stigma in the patient, loss of human rights and greater illness. That is why, after that decree, what is being tried is to change that modality of psychiatric mental hospital as asylums and now what is sought is something more comprehensive, from primary prevention, going to houses, doing community psychiatry. Similarly, although some patients need hospitalization, they must be within normal units, that is, as there are units of gynecology, pediatrics, oncology, among others, there must also be units of psychiatry within hospitals.

Currently, the Pablo Tobón Uribe Hospital , the General Medellín Hospital, the Venancio Diaz in Sabaneta and the Manuel Uribe Angel in Envigado, among others, have psychiatric units where hospitalization is allowed.

Also, there are hospitals that are only psychiatric, such as Pinares Mind and Health, Sameín, the Mental Hospital of Antioquia and the Sagrado Corazón; These, although they are only psychiatric, are hospitals with a more resting modality and less assylum-like.

Drug use and mental illness

Today, the intake of psychoactive substances has been increasing and is one of the prevalent. Alcoholism is the second most common mental illness in psychiatry just like the drug trend.

According to Dr. Oscar Rico, the most important thing for the patient suffering from alcoholism is to understand that when there is a pattern of dependence or substance abuse there is a mental illness. Likewise, if a patient has depression and also abuses this type of substance, he is at greater risk of having a crisis and his illness could become worse.

Finally, it must be said that mental illnesses are part of our reality, and that they are health issues that affect to an equal or greater extent than traditional diseases. That is why we must be watchful, let go the prejudices, fears and worry about our well-being and that of our loved ones.



  • Oscar Rico, psiquiatra de Pinares Mind & Health.
  • Juan Esteban Arcila, médico de Pinares Mind and Healt
  • Álvaro Cárdenas, director del Hospital de Salud Mental, psiquiatra e investigador.
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