Severe Psychiatric Disorders in Indigenous Populations in Guatemala Project - PAHO Foundation
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Severe Psychiatric Disorders in Indigenous Populations in Guatemala Project

In indigenous populations, severe psychiatric disorders often go untreated. To help provide mental health services to an indigenous population in Guatemala, PAHEF provided funding to a project based in Santiago Atitlan.

sever p disordersPhoto courtesy of Dalila Esquina and Alejandro Paiz

Areas of Focus

Prior research identified 31 people with severe non-affective psychosis in the community. This current project aimed to ensure appropriate treatment and close monitoring of these cases while taking into account ethnic and cultural factors.

By working with the Guatemalan Ministry of Health and a principle investigator from Brown University, a four-step action plan was created:

1.Clinical care: A psychiatrist offered therapeutic treatment for 14 known cases as well as discovered new cases and designed individual plans for psycho-social rehabilitation for patients suffering from psychosis. Upon request, the psychiatrist visited a local hospital and provided intervention consultations, evaluations, and monitoring.

2.Mental health promotion & education: People from the community who speak Tzutujil acted as facilitators by promoting lectures and discussions in community settings. To further promote mental health, they also visited patients’ homes and local schools. Additionally, new cases were identified.

3.Training: Sixty teachers from 15 schools were trained to address mental health issues in children.

4.Coordination and creation of the Community Mental Health Network: The group participated in a “community health network”, where a mental health group was conformed, promoting multisectorial work. A network was created to bring together different organizations working at the community level. The network includes Save the Children, Friendly Spaces, the Attorney’s Office of Human Rights, traditional leaders, and community institutions among others.

Extraordinary Strides

This project made formidable progress in providing mental health resources to indigenous people. One of the most remarkable accomplishments was the creation of a mental health team that combines clinical care with traditional community-based action. This combination provides promotion-prevention services, care, and rehabilitation.

The project was so successful that it has continued beyond the initial timeline with funding from the Guatemalan government and technical assistance from PAHO/WHO.


Latest News


Washington, D.C., 28 September 2014 (PAHO /WHO) – The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO ) and the PAHO Foundation have announced the winners of the 2014 Awards for Excellence in Public Health.

This year the honorees hail from Argentina, Bolivia, México, Peru and the United States.

The Velasco-Suárez Award for Excellence in Bioethics, named after the famed Dr. Manuel Velasco-Suárez, founder of the National Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery and former Governor of Chiapas is bestowed upon Argentina native, Dr. Ignacio Mastroleo for his proposal titled “Obligaciones de investigadores y patrocinadores: el modelo de reciprocidad democrática”. The project seeks to develop a model in bioethics across Latin American societies for the multiple actors involved in research with human beings. The award will support Dr. Mastroleo’s research and scholarly activities for one year.
Dr. Javier Torres-Goitía Torres MD, MPH of Bolivia, received the Sérgio Arouca Aaward for Universal Health Care for his actions and public health policies that led to the eradication of endemic goiter (an enlargement of the thyroid gland) and ...