Depression, the “Silent Epidemic” Also Attacks in Cuba
Depression, the “Silent Epidemic” Also Attacks in Cuba
April 3, 2017
By Pilar Montes
HAVANA TIMES — A recent medical event in Havana and particular
indicators I picked up on in TV programs and social projects, stirred my
curiosity about the impact of depression in Cuba.
According to statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO),
depression affects 322 million people worldwide, 18% more than in the
Delving into the distribution of this so-called “silent epidemic” in the
world, the WHO says that the relationship between this disease with
rapid changes, war and migration isn’t clear and that this illness is
more closely linked to addictions such as alcoholism and drug abuse.
In Latin America, Brazil is the country with the highest level of
depression, followed by Cuba, Paraguay, Chile and Uruguay.
A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that over 4%
of the global population suffers from depression and that women, young
people and the elderly are more prone to its crippling effects.
While it’s true that the most immediate causes of depression can be
found in alcohol and drugs, underlying root causes lie in war and
regional conflicts, violence including domestic violence and families
being separated because of migration or economic needs.
“Alcohol consumption is our number one problem,” explains Dr. Alejandro
Garcia, director of the Mental Health Community Center in Central
Havana, the most densely populated muncipality in Cuba, with over
160,000 inhabitants in a total area of 5.44km2.
“They aren’t alcoholics as such, but people who consume alcohol in an
irreponsible manner, which leads to family violence, accidents and
Garcia explained that the response to this health problem is founded on
a three-way strategy which consists in promoting health awareness and
preventing diseases, medical care, as well as rehabilitation, the latter
being closely monitored.
Meanwhile, Conner Gorry, the author of an article published by MEDICC
magazine, which publishes articles by US and Cuban scientists, claims
that the statistics could hit us hard: in Cuba, suicide is one of the
ten leading causes of death and 25% of people who go to health centers
are diagnosed with depression.
In her article published in 2013, Gorry claims that this health
situation “isn’t any different to the global health trend, especially in
Europe, the United States and Canada.” However, Cuba is facing specific
challenges and since 1995 put its mental health system at the service of
the community with professionals available to provide a coordinated
national response to this problem.
Cuban experts agree that one of the greatest challenges the island is
experiencing right now is the rapid increase in its aging population,
Gorry points out. Life expectancy in Cuba is around 80 years, and the
gross birth rate is the lowest within the region and has a lower
fertility rate than what’s needed to replace the generations.
Based on government data, it’s estimated that by 2030, more than a third
of the population will be aged 60 years old and over, he said. Cuba is
on its way to becoming one of the planet’s eleven oldest countries.
The population sector to be most affected by depression and other health
problems that derive from this disease are precisely the elderly. A lot
of the time, the cause for this stems from families being separated, due
to migration and even due to domestic violence.
War, conflict and migration
This situation isn’t exclusive to Cuba, not in the least, it is also
evident in developed countries, where some don’t have universal health
care and the country’s wealth is becoming more and more concentrated in
Ever since I was little, I was always struck by the fact that the
highest rates of suicide took place in the richest countries with the
highest levels of education.
The richest part of the planet make up 70-80% of the 800,000 annual
suicides that take place in high-earning countries, according to a
recent WHO report.
In spite of the increasing threat of this “silent epidemic” in the
world, national health systems continue to dedicate pitiful resources to
dealing with and treating this health problem.
And it’s obvious that when a human being suffers failure in their life
goals, being mentally and professionally capable of reaching these
goals, depression and despair take root.
In the biological, psychological and social make-up of every individual,
changes to any of these components can influence everything and this
disease appears as a result.
According to the Pan American Health Organization, there are 100 million
new cases of depression in the world every year. Primarily in adults,
depression is suffered by 15% of men and 24% of women. The greater
percentage is understood to be in the 18-45 year old age group, which is
when people are at the most productive stage of their lives.
People live and are driven by their interest to satisfy their needs,
ranging from the most basic or simple to the most complex on a spiritual
level, while also interacting with the rest of society, where questions
like how to live, what the meaning of life is and even if it’s worth
living or not come up.
One of the authors of the Pan American Health report, Dan Chisholm,
warned at the Geneva Assembly that the majority of people who suffer
from depression don’t have access to treatment.
“The number of people who access treatment in these countries is
extremely low, it’s less than 5%. Around 95% of those suffering from
depression don’t seek help and this is truly worrying,” the expert said.
Mental health in Cuba: some statistics
Psychiatric hospitals: 17
Admittanceto psychiatric hospitals per 100,000 inhabitants: 0.3
Psychiatric consultations: 899,075
Psychiatric consultations per 100,000 inhabitants: 79
Psychiatric interns: 167
Child psychiatrists: 297
Child psychiatrist interns: 72
Graduated Health psychiatrists (2010-2011): 26
Health psychiatrist interns: 49
Graduated psychiatrists in 2012: 491
Graduated psychiatrists since 19959: 28,745
*Mental Health Community Centers: 101
Sources: Annual Health Statistics, 2012. Public Health Ministry, Cuba;
*Dr. Carmen Borrego, director of the National Mental Health and Drug
Abuse Program, MINSAP
Source: Depression, the “Silent Epidemic” Also Attacks in Cuba – Havana
Times.org – www.havanatimes.org/?p=124535