With President Alberto Fernández declaring that he was taking care of a “pending debt” to the population, Argentina’s government on Monday announced a new national mental health programme and increased funding for treatment and care.
The Peronist leader, unveiling a host of new steps to improve wellbeing, said his government would double its mental health budget to upgrade the training of professionals and boost job opportunities for patients in line with current legislation.
Fernández said mental health problems in Argentina had been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
"The pandemic generated stress, anxiety, fear and a lot of suffering,” said the president, speaking at a state hospital in Parque Patricios, Buenos Aires. “Each person should know that they are not alone and that we cannot turn deaf ears to this problem.”
The new National Mental Health Strategy will seek to "guarantee mental health care and attention at all stages of life,” said Fernández.
He said the current budget will be raised from 3.7 billion pesos (US$31 million) to 7.7 billion pesos (US$64.7 million), thanks to an extraordinary fund of four billion pesos.
He continued: "We are going to prioritise paying off another debt, which is the full implementation of the Mental Health Law. In mental health there are no vaccines, but there are actions. We need joint work from different ministries."
The initiative will make its "priority interlinking policies in the national health system, based on a perspective of community rights, free from violence and with respect for diversity," explained the Health Ministry.
It will seek to foment activities of prevention, the promotion of specific quality treatments and access to primary attention in every province.
Argentina’s Mental Health Law, passed in 2010, laid emphasis on limiting locking people away in asylums, prohibiting the creation of new psychiatric hospitals with the idea of transforming them into polyvalent hospitals
Emergency units and interdisciplinary wards will be created nationwide under the mental health plan with specialisation in that branch and problematic consumer habits introduced in all hospitals.
Community mental health projects are also being promoted through the "Entre varios en barrios" programme, also providing for the construction of 2,000 houses to be used for outpatients, as well as job schemes for the latter, among other points.
The national government, in conjunction with the Health Ministry and the 23 provinces plus City Hall, have agreed on a Federal Strategy for Integrally Tackling Mental Health, as applied in Law 26,657.
It was informed that this plan will have a total budget of 7,667,798,845 pesos corresponding to the current sum under the Health Ministry, which has been boosted by an extra 107 percent to carry out all the areas in question.
An extension of telemedicine and better access to interconsulting will be sought
Implementation of Interdisciplinary Mental Health Residences (RISAM in the Spanish acronym) in 12 provinces
Creation of the specialty of Community Mental Health
Diplomas in mental action from a legal perspective
The delivery of REMEDIAR first aid kits to 350 hospitals
The transfer of funds to provinces within the framework of the SUMAR Programme
New lines of research in mental health
Mental Health Training in the framework of the National Action Plan against Gender Violence
There was also information on new initiatives for the plan:
Creation of 24-hour emergency units and interdisciplinary wards at all national hospitals according to the model of the Bonaparte Hospital in the Federal Capital
Adapting the Montes de Oca Colony to polyvalent methods
Incorporating human resources specialised in Community Mental Health
Nationwide territorial operation of the “Entre varios en barrios” neighbourhood programme for the promotion of community mental health care and preventive strategies
Creation of the programme for tackling problematic consumer habits with integral care
Strengthening the implementation of the law for the prevention of suicides via an 0800 telephone number in the provinces
Professional accompaniment at the first level of care for integrally tackling mental health within the LGBTIQ+ community
Training in the Mental Health Act for all national government employees and other organisms, similar to what is already done with the Ley Micaela (against femicide).
Strengthening the aid network for an intersectorial approach in the integral care of problematic consumer habits
After these points actions with other ministries were announced. In that sense there was an agreement with the Housing Ministry to assign three percent of the houses constructed for the use of outpatients.
More than 2,000 housing units will also be built, according to need, in order to take outpatients out of institutions. The Public Works Ministry proposes continuing the Nodos de Cuidado en Red strategy combining the construction of new locations with adapting the existing monovalent hospitals.