Spain's New Mental Health Care Plan Aims to Aid Young People

Andrea Jiménez

June 14, 2022

In light of the alarming increase in mental disorders, members of the Spanish National Health System's Interterritorial Council (CISNS) approved the 2022-2024 Mental Health Action Plan on May 11.

The document, long awaited by professionals in the sector, was launched in coordination with the National Health System's Mental Health Strategy. The roadmap outlines measures that are "all welcome and very necessary," said María Teresa Aparicio, child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Municipal Community Health Centers (CMSc), Ramón y Cajal Hospital in Madrid. "The mental health network had limited resources and has been overwhelmed after the pandemic."

Suicide Hotline

Aparicio, an Association of Doctors and Graduates of Madrid (AMYTS) union member, explains that the coronavirus health crisis drastically increased mental health disorders, raising cases by up to 47% in minors. "The pioneering aspect of this plan is that it provides particular attention to the child and adolescent population, who are very vulnerable to developing mental illnesses. The pandemic has been pretty devastating and has brought many pathologies to the surface, both in children and in families."

Among the program's new measures, the creation of the 024 hotline stands out. Active for the last 2 weeks, this Suicidal Behavior Help Line answered more than 1000 calls in its first 24 hours. Those on the other end of the phone received active listening from the experts who answered their call. For Aparicio, this development highlights the importance of actions that serve to prevent mental illness, "since it is much more favorable to focus on prevention rather than treatment of pathologies."

In addition to prevention, early detection, and a focus on suicidal behavior, Aparicio highlights another important strategic direction of the plan: four new day hospitals for children and adolescents are scheduled to open. Carolina Darias, Spain's Minister of Health, announced that these hospitals will be staffed with 54 new health professionals, including psychologists, nurses specializing in mental health, and social workers.

"The creation of these new day hospitals was urgently needed to serve a very vulnerable, fragile, and developing population," said Aparicio. "If we treat an emerging pathology, we can prevent it from becoming chronic and necessitating care in adulthood."

Training and Awareness

In addition to the two innovative measures above, a €10 million plan has been announced for 2021, 2022, and 2023. This comes under Point 18 of Spain's Recovery, Transformation, and Resilience Plan for the distribution of funds dedicated to training, with the aim of reaching around 90,000 health professionals and completing at least 360,000 ongoing training credits with them.

This recently announced budget to boost training is in line with the approval of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry specialty. After passing the next Resident Medical Intern exam, doctors will be able to opt to follow this new professional track, which aims to improve healthy psychological development pathways from early childhood.

"The approval of this new specialty is an achievement that we have sought for many years. The care that will be given to younger patients will be quality care," said Aparicio, who has already taken the necessary steps to gain extraordinary access to this pathway, within which she has long worked. "There are not many of us, and one of the big problems facing the system is that psychiatrists without the necessary training and skills are devoting time to care for children and adolescents, with differing characteristics to adult patients."

Aparicio adds that "many more facilities are needed, and we need to update those we have, as well as develop more intermediate resources." According to the specialist, "professionals should carry out consultations at mental health centers in a less pressurized environment, making it possible to carry out more comprehensive and focused patient evaluations. Through this, we would get much better results." Aparicio points out that the mental health system "is currently suffering from a bottleneck. There are no appointments, checkups are scheduled for up to a month and a half or 2 months later in the best of cases, and emergency rooms are full."

Another novel feature of the plan is that it focuses not only on the health system and patients, but also on society as a whole. This strategy is aimed at raising awareness and fighting against the stigmatization of people with mental health problems. This message has been spread through campaigns and training that seem to have been gaining more and more media attention in recent years.

"Mental health is finally starting to matter. After the pandemic and the high rate of suicides that have occurred, an urgent response must be given," said Aparicio. Her conclusion? "While the measures of this plan seem very new, only time will tell if implementing these strategies will meet demand and achieve one of the main objectives: avoiding hospitalizations and hospital emergencies."

This article was translated from Univadis Spain.

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