The study reveals important gaps in child and adolescent mental health policies at national level

On Wednesday 5 October, the Children’s Ombudsman presented to the Ministry of Health the results of a study which revealed the dramatic gaps in the country’s mental health policies for children and adolescents.

The study, conducted in the years 2020 and 2021, was carried out by researchers from the University of Chile, the Mental Health Program of the School of Public Health and the Center for Research in Civil Security.

The mixed-use study produced proposals and recommendations for a new child and adolescent mental health network, presenting an analysis of existing standards in the field of human rights, an analysis of comparative experience, of specialized institutions, of gaps in the functioning of the mental health system of children and adolescents in Chile and recommendations to the state to address the identified gaps.

According to Gonzalo Soto, an academician in the Mental Health Program at the School of Public Health and principal investigator of the study, the work began with a process of reviewing comparative policies to identify existing difficulties in the country.

“The ombudsman wanted to learn through a study, compared with cases from other countries, the mental health policies in childhood and adolescence, given that Chile has a policy on childhood and adolescence in general, but no specific health policy. With this in mind and in a collaborative way, we worked together with a team of psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists to assess these realities”.

At the national level, the last study was developed almost 20 years ago, so it was necessary to know the realities in other countries (New Zealand, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Peru, Uruguay, Portugal and Spain). With this data, work began that allowed us to begin to identify and systematize the deficiencies that exist at the level of intersectoral relations in Chile.

Diego Piñol, a researcher at the Center for Civil Security Studies at the University of Chile, explains that this research “allowed us to discover and systematize the work done in the field of child and adolescent mental health (NNA), identifying a set of programs that seek to address the problem but are presented as a disjointed proposition that requires coordinated cross-sectoral work that provides a comprehensive response to the needs of these groups.

The main objective, explains Gonzalo Soto, “was to provide the children’s ombudsman with tools so that they can influence the national agenda through the advocacy role they exercise in terms of how mental health policy should be developed in the children, girls and boys of our country”.

Recommendations for Strengthening Community Mental Health Models

The study considers, among its tools, the application of a survey that achieves the participation of nearly 800 children and adolescents who are under state care, at their various stages.

The results obtained made it possible to recognize and evaluate their opinion, also highlighting the need to achieve the active participation of children and adolescents in the design, implementation and evaluation of policies on this topic, as well as the importance of their active participation in the promotion of issues. and mental health care.

In this line, the main recommendations focused on eight themes: funding, policy development, funding, plans and programmes, community mental health, human rights, effective participation and monitoring and evaluation.

In this sense, Piñol states that “the study provides a set of recommendations for public policy to address gaps in care. And among the most relevant recommendations is the creation of a Program to Improve Mental Health Management (PMG) and, given the cross-sectoral nature of the problem, ensuring universal access to children and adolescents to mental health benefits and strengthening community awareness of health models.

During the presentation of the report, Ombudsman for Children Patricia Muñoz emphasized the importance of the study and highlighted the results of the study conducted at the national level.

“Children and adolescents have come to recognize the concept of mental health as well-being or feeling good. They recognize anxiety (92.9% of mentions), depression (92.3%) and self-harm (77.5%) as the most important health problems for their peers.

It further states that “on the other hand, respondents identified as particularly affected groups in terms of their mental health children and adolescents in state care (84% of mentions), those belonging to the LGBTIQ+ community (82%), girls and adolescents (65%) and those with disabilities (58%)’.

It should be noted that the “Study of Public Policies Related to Child and Adolescent Mental Health” was developed by a team of researchers composed of Gonzalo Soto, Olga Toro, Ruben Alvarado and Esteban Encina, members of the School’s Mental Health Program in Public Health of the University of Chile; together with Diego Piñol, Angelica Ramírez, Mauricio Sánchez, Camila Vistoso and Carolina Benavides from the Center for Civil Security Studies at the Casa de Bello School of Management.

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