Mexico’s drug war has caused a 30 percent increase in mental illness in the country’s population, according to a top psychiatrist, highlighting the lesser-known impacts of organized crime.
Maria Elena Medina Mora, director of Mexico’s National Psychiatric Institute, told newspaper La Jornada that violence and kidnapping — along with an increase in national drug consumption — had caused a tangible change in people’s mental health.
While she did not provide information to corroborate the 30 percent figure, Medina Mora pointed to a doubling in the national suicide rate between 1990 and 2011. The rate had almost tripled for people aged between 15 to 19, she added. Kidnappings were particularly associated with leading to post-traumatic stress, said the doctor, which often caused depression and led to suicide in the most serious cases.
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One challenge that Mexico will likely face in the coming years is assessing the true extent of the psychological toll left by the drug war. Asides from enduring kidnappings, gun battles, and other very public displays of violence, many Mexicans must deal with the question of what happened to friends and relatives who have disappeared. The Attorney General’s Office has estimated that over 26,000 people were reported missing between 2006 and 2012.
Asides from treating members of the security forces, Mexico will also face the challenge of assessing the psychological impact of the drug violence on civilian workers. Journalists and other media employees in particular may be vulnerable to post-traumatic stress. Research by Canadian psychiatrist Anthony Feinstein found that a significant proportion of Mexican journalists suffered from psychological distress, at similar levels observed in war correspondents, but with one key difference. “Unlike the war group, who travel in and out of danger, most Mexican journalists… both live and work in areas where violence is endemic,” Feinstein told the BBC. “There is no respite from danger.”