25 Apr 2022
Let’s Talk about the “Silent Pandemic”—in Honor of Mental Health Awareness Month
Estimated read time: 4 minutes
While the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be waning, the “Silent Pandemic” rages on. Today, mental, neurological and substance-use disorders—aka, MNS disorders—are impacting a growing number of people, disrupting lives, families, communities and businesses. Since COVID-19, it’s only become worse.
This pandemic may be silent, but we won’t be. Throughout the month of May—Mental Health Awareness Month—Pan-American Life will continue to speak out on this very important subject, especially as it impacts our producers, policyholders, employees and markets.
To that end, we’re pleased to share our new white paper with our agent and broker community. We think you’ll find it eye-opening—especially since its focus is the impact of this crisis on Latin America and the Caribbean. We’ve included some highlights here.
Mental health is not an easy topic to broach, but it’s critical that we do so. We must be able to recognize when friends, family and colleagues need support. To encourage group clients to promote their policies’ mental health benefits to their employees. And of course, to acknowledge when we find ourselves struggling and need to ask for help.
In other words, it’s time to speak up!
Understanding MNS Disorders
There are many types of MNS disorders. Some of the better-known illnesses include:
- Depressive disorders
- Neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism
- Psychotic disorders, like schizophrenia
- Bipolar disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Obsessive compulsive disorders
- Trauma disorders, like PTSD
- Substance-related disorders, including excessive use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs
- Neurocognitive disorders, like Alzheimer’s disease
In their most extreme forms, mental health disorders can lead to suicide and self-harm.
What causes MNS disorders? There are multiple contributors, including genetics, traumatic life experiences, chemical imbalances, exposure to viruses and toxins, serious health conditions and social isolation. Stressors like unemployment and, yes, global pandemics also play a role.
What about Latin America and the Caribbean?
MNS disorders are widespread throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, accounting for 20% of the total disability burden—that is, the percentage of the population that can’t work because of their illness. Depression, anxiety and pain disorders are the most common disorders.
Alarmingly, one global study found that the prevalence of depression and anxiety has increased by 20-40% in Latin American and Caribbean countries since COVID-19—among the highest increases in the world.
Contributing to the problem: regionally, there is a strong stigma associated with mental health, especially in Latino cultures, where it’s often viewed as a sign of weakness.
When these attitudes are embraced on a national level, it leads to treatment gaps between the need for services and their availability. For example, some Central American countries allocate less than $3 per capita for mental health programs—compared to $24 per capita in the Caribbean and more than $193 per capita in the U.S. and Canada.
Fortunately, compassion and benevolence are also traditional Latino values—and when those who are struggling receive such positive support, they’re more likely to seek help. Regardless of where you live, by voicing support for those who are struggling and encouraging them to seek treatment, you become part of the solution.
The Cost of Untreated MSN Disorders to Employers
Workers with MNS disorders incur higher healthcare costs and miss more days of work than others. Depression and anxiety disorders alone cost the global economy more than $1 trillion annually, due to lost productivity!
Mental health disorders also leads to increased absenteeism and job loss—something understaffed employers cannot afford. For this reason, when employers support their affected employees and encourage them to seek treatment, it’s a win/win.
This is an area where producers can make a difference. If you sell Pan-American Life’s group health policies, make sure your clients not only understand their mental health benefits, but encourage their employees to use them. Emphasize them with your group prospects, too—because these benefits are more valuable than ever.
Solving the Mental Health Crisis
The good news is, there are many effective interventions and treatments for MNS conditions, including medications and therapy. Often, the hardest part is asking for them.
In addition, there are simple steps we can take to protect our mental wellness—like getting enough sleep and exercise, unplugging from the news, and spending quality time with friends and loved ones. And, of course, if you find yourself struggling, don’t hesitate to ask for help.
The mental health crisis is not going to disappear by itself, but the first step is to bring it out in the open. Start by reading our white paper, Mental Health in Latin America and the Caribbean, for more information. By wising up and speaking up, we can combat the Silent Pandemic.