The Western highlands of Guatemala, like much of the country, has a long history of trauma including a long civil war, massacres, social cleansing, poverty, and multiple natural disasters. ALAS Pro Salud Mental was founded in 2013 with the mission to provide culturally respectful care, rehabilitation, and empowerment to people with mental illness within their communities and to reduce societal stigma and discrimination in a region where there were no mental health services prior to 2009. ALAS has created alliances with the state health service, community health centers, local pharmacies, and community leaders. In 2014, ALAS partnered with Stanford Psychiatry to create a training site for residents and fellows. Current efforts include outreach, regular consultation clinics for communities, and community sensitization to mental health in a number of ways – through trainings at schools and health centers and through a regular radio program in both Spanish and Mayan languages. Since then, the collaboration has grown to include partners in pediatrics, psychology and anthropology with a goal to build capacity for culturally appropriate mental health care in rural Guatemala through academic-community partnerships. The team aims to augment existing primary care and community health networks in the region to introduce care for depression initially and mental health more broadly to address the reality of limited to no trained mental health practitioners in the region. ALAS is the only non-governmental organization in Guatemala providing mental health care for those who could not otherwise afford it, and we have been able to operate to this day thanks to the generous donations of the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi.
ALAS strategies to improve attention, prevention and promotion of mental health are compatible with international human rights conventions and agreements. Human rights must be a key factor in the design, development, follow-up and evaluation of our activities. This include: the rights to equality, non-discrimination, dignity, respect of privacy and autonomy, the right to information and participation.
ALAS encourage its patients to take part in our self-help group to support and follow their recovery, as well as to reduce stigma by helping their families to understand the nature of their illness. We also create opportunities of development and improvement in their quality of life through our microloan programs developed in partnership with X-microfinance since research shows that a long-term recovery is largely improved by working and the feeling of well-being that comes from collaborating with the family finances.
Currently, ALAS´s efforts are focused in Sololá, with a vision of expanding its services throughout Guatemala. ALAS faces immense challenges in fulfilling its goals, especially given the unique cultural and historical background of the region it serves.
- We want mental health to be considered essential on a national level, and particularly in Sololá
- We want preventive measures to be effective, and we want mentally ill patients low income to have access to quality cares and treatments
- We want to work with people with mental diseases and not only for them; we strive to build an innovative answer for this problem
- We hope to transform the life of hundreds of people by improving their mental health and by re-integrating them their communities through the reduction of discrimination and stigmatization