In Argentina 2010, the National Mental Health Law (Law No. 26.656) was unanimously passed. This legislation reflects the willingness of the Argentine government to follow the mental health guidelines established by Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), of which Argentina is a member state.
Law No. 26.656 includes among its provisions the prohibition of building new public or private mental hospitals. Law No. 26.656 also stipulates the definitive replacement of existing mental hospitals for alternative treatments such as, hospital beds in general hospitals, home care, socio-labor training centers, interdisciplinary specialized care for patients, community housing and casas de medio camino (specialized residences for people with mental disorders). Law No. 26.656 also recognizes the importance of focusing attention on social integration and patient’s inclusion and respect for the right to have mental disorders not be considered as a non-modifiable status.
The regulatory decree of 2013, stipulates that the definitive replacement of existing mental hospitals it must be fulfilled by 2020 according to the commitment assumed in the Panama consensus of 2010. Unfortunately, this target has not yet been achieved in Argentina.
Last year, Argentina carried out the first national census of people admitted for mental health reasons. According to the results submitted by Argentina to PAHO, there are currently 162 mental hospitals (41 are public), in which there are 12,035 people admitted. The average stay is more than 8 years but increases to 12.5 year in public hospitals.
According to the 2019 census results, strong public policies are needed to make effective the current legislation. The census is a great first step, but there is a need for greater political backing to achieve more progress, especially considering than almost ten years have passed since the enactment of Law No. 26.656.
However, this is a challenge in Argentina because mental health issues still do not reach the degree of visibility that they should have. It could be because Argentinian culture tends to ignore mental health issues and to the culture of enclosing people in mental hospitals that causes rights violations. For example, emotional education, an educational tool to prevent mental disorders, does not seem to be a priority in the country. In the 2016-2021 National Strategic Plan “Argentina enseña y aprende” (Argentina Teaches and Learns) presents the priority educational objectives for 2021 and does not mention emotional education for young people.
In Argentina, the rights of people with mental disorders are recognized in instruments of international law with constitutional hierarchy, namely the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides the right to care and protection of mental health and CRPD also highlights the importance of interdisciplinary teamwork. In order to implement CRPD, the government of Argentina created in 2017 the Plan Nacional de Discapacidad (National Disability Plan) defined as a public policy instrument.
It is also important to consider that mental health issues are on the rise. Argentine psychologist Devora Kestel said “worldwide, close to 30% diseases that generate disabilities are related to mental health and in the last 25 years the burden of the problem has doubled”. In Argentina, the Department of Health estimates that 25% of people in will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. Moreover, accordingly to the country’s first epidemiological investigation in 2018, one in three people in Argentina over the age of 18 presented a mental health disorder at some point in their lives, depression and anxiety were the most common.
Consequently, health systems require more robust responses to meet the needs of society in terms of mental health, and human rights educations would be a fundamental step.
The views reflected in this expert column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.