The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) is highly concerned about the mental health crisis in Venezuela. Because of the current economic crisis, the situation in Venezuela is dire, and many people are suffering greatly. Mental illnesses are getting worse and rates for addiction and suicide are on the rise. Extensive research done since 2015 has shown that the population as a whole has been profoundly affected by the crisis and studies reveal a predominance of negative emotions such as sadness and despair. Service-users, in particular, are feeling the brunt of the crisis. Mental health institutions are scarcely functioning. Reportedly, there are severe shortages of medical supplies and antipsychotic medications at hospitals in Venezuela (according to some accounts, approximately 60% of hospitals lack oral antipsychotic medication). Families who desire medication for their loved ones need to buy it themselves; however, since it costs more than ten times the monthly minimum wage, many are simply unable to do so. According to doctors who work at At El Penon Hospital, (one of the capital’s main psychiatric facilities), 14 patients have died since 2016 due to these poor conditions and lack of medication. Hospitals are literally “in the dark”, as management cannot afford to replace the light bulbs. There is no potable water to give to patients and neither is there much food.
Because of these appalling conditions, many families choose what they feel is the lesser of two evils – they try to care for their relatives living with mental illness in their own homes. Trying to take care of a mentally ill relative – a father or mother, a son or daughter, a sister or brother – without professional assistance or adequate medication increases distress. Nobody should have to keep their daughter locked in a room because she experiences symptoms of schizophrenia and in her exacerbated state constitutes a danger to herself and others. At present, life is hard enough for the Venezuelan people without being in the untenable position of serving as a doctor, nurse and warden for loved ones whose already-severe mental illnesses are further deteriorated because of the current situation.
As a UN member, Venezuela’s government has subscribed to the International Convention of People with Disability, and thus bears the responsibility to promote and protect human rights, and to create safe and effective mental health systems for all.
Basic human rights require that vital resources be redirected toward improving conditions in psychiatric hospitals so that patients can receive the necessary care, food, medications and medical treatment to which they are entitled. Families should not be forced to choose between allowing their loved one to waste away in institutions ill – equipped to take care of them or to confront an impossible situation by keeping that loved one at home where they lack mental health services.
The situation in Venezuela is indeed dire, but the situation of mental-health in Venezuela goes beyond dire – it is catastrophic. Venezuela should develop a national mental- health policy and adopt a Mental Health Act that pursues community-based patient- oriented recovery interventions. It is also recommended that care for people experiencing mental distress will be provided in general hospitals or at the Primary Health Care level with families receiving recognition and support.
The WFMH calls on the government of Venezuela to immediately address this dire and distressing situation. We call on all stakeholders to raise their voices in a unified demand for immediate action.
Prepared by the Human Rights Section of the WFMH – February 2020.