CIESAL researcher was the only Chilean academic involved in PAHO Report on mental health and Covid-19


UV Press/ Rubén Alvarado, PhD in Psychiatry and Community Care and researcher at the Universidad de Valparaíso’s (UV) School of Medicine, was the only Chilean academic in the team of international experts involved in drafting the Report of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) High Level Commission on Mental Health and Covid-19.

The text, released on 9 June in Washington DC, is part of the New Mental Health Agenda for the Americas, a set of WHO policies and strategies for post-pandemic population recovery on a global scale.

One of the main challenges for Chile, as set out in the Report, is to have a nationwide system in place to enable the timely identification of those individuals most at risk of suicide and to make progress with the training of educators and health professionals with the necessary skills to diagnose this problem and provide the necessary help. Our country has the tenth highest suicide mortality rate in the Americas. For the UV School of Medicine psychiatrist, this fact should be one of our main concerns. “Chile has been operating a national suicide prevention programme for a decade, which has been a step forward and has led to a slight decrease in mortality rates from this cause. But there is still much to be done, especially in our ability to identify people at higher risk, to provide psychological first aid – for which we should all be prepared, at school, at work and elsewhere – and to have a system of care that prioritises it, since life is at stake,” Dr Alvarado pointed out.

The researcher and doctor of psychiatry explained that the fifteen general recommendations set out in the PAHO report seek to address mental health problems that already existed prior to the pandemic, but were aggravated by the health emergency. The document’s conclusions reinforce the proposals of the 1990 Caracas Declaration, in which every country on the continent agreed on the need for a reform of traditional psychiatric care, promoting a community-based, decentralised, participatory, comprehensive mental health care system, with continuity of care and a greater emphasis on prevention.

“What the pandemic did was to make the mental health problems that were already present on the continent and in Chile even more visible. We have known for a long time that one third of people develop one or more mental health problems during their lifetime. In other words, we are talking about conditions that have always been prevalent but which seem to have increased in the last year. We have seen this especially among young people,” said the expert from the UV Medical School.

The PAHO report warns that mental health is an area that continues to be neglected on the continent, and that most countries in the Americas are far from achieving the goal of moving from a system of care centred on psychiatric hospitals and long-stay hospitalisation to one geared towards providing care in the community, with a greater capacity for treatment in primary care centres and in coordination with specialised community centres.

“In this context, Chile is one of the few countries in Latin America that has made systematic progress on this issue, especially since 2000, thanks to its national mental health and psychiatry plans that have guided the development of services with this kind of community and comprehensive approach,” explained the only Chilean expert on the PAHO High-Level Commission on Mental Health and Covid-19.

The Report’s 10 Recommendations for Improving Mental Health Care

  • Elevate mental health at national and supranational levels.
  • Integrate mental health into all policies.
  • Increase the quantity and improve the quality of financing for mental health.
  • Ensure the human rights for people living with mental health conditions.
  • Promote and protect mental health across the life course.
  • Improve and expand community-based mental health services and care.
  • Strengthen suicide prevention.
  • Adopt a gender transformative approach to mental health.
  • Address racism and racial discrimination as a key determinant of mental health.
  • Improve mental health data and research.



See U. de Chile Public Health School article