The Mentally Ill: In a Path to Decline?

December 19, 2016

     Venezuela’s health care system is being adversely affected by its economic crisis.  From dying infants[1] to forgotten mentally ill patients[2] – there is no denying of the scarcity of medication.  Yet, although hospitals and news sources report[3] otherwise, the Venezuelan government does indeed deny the scarcity of medication[4].  With almost no drugs to control the afflictions tormenting its patients, psychiatric hospitals are resorting to desperate measures. Without anticonvulsant and psychotropic medication, hospital staff are tying their patients to their beds either for their own safety, that of others, or both.  In an interview with news site lapatilla[5], Luis Villegas, administrative assistant of the Center and head of purchasing at the Barquisimeto psychiatric hospital, asserts that in all the drugstores he called he is told that none those medications are in existence.

     In an investigation conducted by the New York Times at the request of doctors, six psychiatric hospitals are reported to hold patients in deplorable conditions.  The very few health care providers who still hang on and go to work are plagued by feelings of anger and hopelessness. Nurses find themselves between a rock and a hard place as they have to decide who gets the very few remaining pills.  They are forced to debate which patient is suffering the most or in the greatest need?  In efforts to reduce dosages, they dole out pills into small metal cups.

     Patients who are perfectly functional under medication are rolling on the floor crying and screaming. For most of these patients, stray cats and dogs are the company they keep. Left forgotten even by those who once were family, the patients of El Pampero Hospital – the ones lucid enough to benefit – find a little comfort in a weekly 10-minute salsa dancing event.  Some psychiatric institutions are releasing their patients because of their inability to care for them.

     For the lucky few mentally ill individuals who are at home being cared for by their families, the scarcity of medication is also felt. At a home in Maracay, Venezuela, a couple sitting with their two sons report[6] on the decline their son suffering from schizophrenia. Mandated by the voices in their head to kill his brother, Simeon, 25, attacked himself with an electric grinder only to be saved by his father who removed the grinder from his son’s bloody hands.  Faced with the economic crisis, families such as Simeon’s are faced with the dilemma of going to work or staying at home to care for their loves ones.

     In addition to the scarcity of food and medications, the programs designed to address the needs and treatment of the mentally ill are not widely available (if at all), and the number of specialized psychiatric programs are limited – as they are in most developing Latin American nations. Argentina once produced most of its own pharmaceutical drugs. In light of  such desperate times, perhaps the only positive news is the psychiatric hospitals’ creative programming for treatment through tango[7]  and even astrology[8].


[1] Casey, N. (2016, May 16). Dying Infants and No Medicine: Inside Venezuela’s Failing Hospitals. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from

[2] Kohut, M., & Casey, N. (2016, October 01). Inside Venezuela’s Crumbling Mental Hospitals. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from®ion=Marginalia&pgtype=article

[3] Casey, N. (2016, May 16). Dying Infants and No Medicine: Inside Venezuela’s Failing Hospitals. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from

[4] Vivanco, J. M. (2016, October 29). Venezuela has no More Time to Waste. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from

[5] Tres pacientes han muerto por desnutrición en psiquiátrico de Barquisimeto. (2016, July 31). Retrieved November 07, 2016, from

[6] Casey, N. (2016, October 01). At a Loss for Meds, Venezuela’s Mentally Ill Spiral Downward. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from

[7] W. (2016, July 01). In Argentina, mental health specialists use tango on patients. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from

[8] MacDonald, F. (2016, July 6). A Hospital in Argentina Is Using Astrology to Treat Mental Health Patients. Retrieved November 07, 2016, from


About Author(s)

marisapr's picture
Marisa is a third-year law student at the University of Pittsburgh. She is pursuing certificates in Health Law and in Latin American Studies. She is interested in gender and race issues and how they affect immigration and immigrant communities. She also does research in public health issues. She has been contributing with articles for Panoramas since 2015.