Mental Health in Maduro’s Venezuela
By Noelani Kirschner / ShareAmerica February 05, 2020
As the illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro continues to starve the Venezuelan people and destroy their health care system, the mental health of Venezuelans continues to deteriorate.
For those suffering from chronic and severe mental health disorders — such as schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder — access to doctors and medications are essential to staying alive.
Psychiatric wards in Venezuelan hospitals are in crisis mode. Amid general medicine shortages in Venezuela, it is nearly impossible for those who need psychiatric medications to receive them. According to Dr. Julio Castro, health coordinator at the Venezuelan National Assembly, 80 percent of hospitals reported a total lack of oral benzodiazepine medications (used to treat anxiety and panic disorders, among others), 60 percent do not have oral antipsychotic drugs, while 50 percent of hospitals neither have intravenous benzodiazepine nor antipsychotic drugs.
The lack of medication leaves a patient with two options: to buy the medicine out of pocket at the local pharmacy or have a relative living abroad mail it. The cost of an epileptic medication averages $70 a month; the minimum wage in Venezuela is $5 a month.
According to Castro, psychiatric patients get worse day by day and should go to an acute ward. Fifty percent of those wards, however, don’t have medication, so patients receive nothing and end up dying.
Outside the country, Venezuelans are struggling to overcome these same mental health issues while also grappling with the trauma of displacement. The United Nations estimates that more than 4.8 million Venezuelan refugees have fled Venezuela, with 3.9 million in Latin America and the Caribbean — most of them are in Colombia.
Venezuelans “left their country — in many instances — with the clothes they had on their back and the money they had in their pocket,” said Dr. Pierluigi Mancini, a mental health expert who specializes in immigrants from South and Central America.
Displaced people rarely have their medical records with them, which means that starting over in a new country is an uphill battle.
In Colombia, Venezuelan refugees must register with the country’s health care system, but many haven’t. In 2018, only 28,069 Venezuelans — out of roughly 1.6 million refugees — had refugee status, according to a Colombian government report. Those who aren’t registered must pay hundreds or thousands of dollars out of pocket.
All of these roadblocks can seem insurmountable, especially for those who have severe disorders and require regular medication or treatment.
According to Mancini, displaced individuals with a severe mental disorder who openly struggle in public are “either taken to an emergency room or to jail,” he said. “Sometimes, one right after the other.”