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Carleton College

Publication Date

Fall 2010

Program Name

Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment


Background: Previous literature has identified a strong stigma against mental health patients in many parts of Latin America, which can serve as a deterrent to seeking help for mental health (Acuña 2005; López 2008; Vicente 2007). The resulting lack of attention to one’s mental health can not only exacerbate mental illnesses but also impede proper attention to one’s physical health (Prince 2007). Therefore, combating this stigma is an important step to improving the health of a population. Some of the most effective strategies for combating the stigma are education, social interaction, and integrating mental health services into primary care (López 2008; Murthy 2001). Education and integration of health services are two of the strategies implemented in Chile during recent healthcare reform (Minoletti 2005). The present study sought to characterize the perceptions of mental health services and the patients who utilize them and to determine what effect the health reform in Chile has had on these opinions.

Methodology: A survey regarding experience, education, and perception of mental health services and patients was applied to 150 patients in the Centro de Salud Familiar Víctor Bertín Soto in Arica, Chile.

Results: Only 21% of the sample had used a mental health service in the past, 58% of whom had been referred by another healthcare professional. The majority (88%) of the sample had never been educated about mental health. Fear of other people’s opinions and not knowing when this type of medical attention was necessary were commonly identified deterrents to seeking attention for mental health. The majority expressed an open-minded opinion regarding mental health patients, and many indicated that this opinion had evolved in the last ten years. Such change was most often a result of interaction with a mental health patient.

Discussion and recommendations: This population has an open-minded perspective regarding mental healthcare. However, the stigma is still identified as a deterrent to seeking care. Education about mental heath, one of the goals of the health reform, has not reached the majority of the population. Facilitating social interaction may be a more effective strategy to reduce the stigma. The integration of services into primary care during the health reform seems to have been effective in improving access to mental healthcare because referrals commonly lead people to get treatment for mental health.


Community Health | Community Health and Preventive Medicine | Family, Life Course, and Society | Inequality and Stratification | Medicine and Health | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatric and Mental Health