People line up to be treated at the Mario Mendoza Psychiatric Hospital, this Friday in the city of Tegucigalpa (Honduras). . / Gustavo Amador

Tegucigalpa, Jun 26 . .- Mental health problems are the other « hidden pandemic » suffered by Hondurans, who are affected by the spread of COVID-19, a disease that in three months has left 426 dead and 15,366 infections , said scientist Marco Tulio Medina this Friday in an interview with Efe.
« In general, we believe that mental health in these times of COVID-19 is another problem that adds to the issue of economic survival. Mental health, we could say, is the other hidden pandemic that is occurring in our countries, and in this case in Honduras too, « Medina stressed.
The professional highlighted several factors that are affecting Hondurans due to forced confinement, imposed since mid-March, when the first two cases of contagion of the deadly disease were confirmed in the Central American country.
In this sense, he indicated that « more research needs to be done in psychological support for our population, » and that physical health is also very important for human mental health.
Medina, former dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), pointed out that at an international level, evaluations have been made on the situation, in relation to worldwide confinement, in different cultures.
The effects on mental health and what is called family health and the implications it can have on people with different conditions, including children, have also been evaluated.
« On this, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been raising the enormous concern that confinement implies, the stress that is occurring at the level of people affected by the pandemic, » Medina said.
In addition, he stressed that in his country there are people who may have more risks of suffering the effects of the pandemic and associated stress, considering that, in Honduras, among other things, 25% of the population over 18 years of age have suffered from depression or moderate depressive disorders or major depressive disorders.
« A person, or groups with this condition, in a situation of stress, their psychological and psychiatric situation may worsen, » emphasized Medina.
Further worsening, for example of depressive disorder, including suicide risk, may occur if the person does not have access to a medical service or medical support.
The situation is serious for many, mainly the poor, who make up more than 60% of the 9.3 million inhabitants of Honduras, a country that has always had poor health and education systems, which is again being reflected in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another adverse factor, Medina explained, is the alteration of the family structure that Honduras suffers to a great extent, with many homes « being destroyed, in which there is only one parent in charge, that is, single mothers. »
« There are even cases of children who are under the care of other relatives because their parents have emigrated to the United States or Europe, » said the scientist, who is also linked to the WHO and other institutions with research projects.
In Honduras, according to Medina, more than 30% of families suffer from alteration in their structure, largely for economic reasons, which has resulted in many children being in the care of another relative, without minors having the support psychological enough, mainly when his two parents are absent.
This situation is also reflected in the streets of the main cities of the country, where many children ask for money or food, in some cases sent by their parents or other relatives.
During the pandemic, the number of children and adults asking for money or food on the street has increased markedly, arguing that they are « poor » and have no money.
Many of the children who ask in the streets and boulevards of main cities such as Tegucigalpa and San Pedro, who are the ones that register the most cases of COVID-19 nationwide, are of school age and should be doing homework and studying at home, what that teachers indicate to them electronically, although that does not work everywhere, mainly in the most remote and poorest parts of the country.
Medina recalled that « more than 60% of the population lives in poverty and more than 30% in extreme poverty », so the socioeconomic situation, in these circumstances, is an additional problem, since many have difficulties with food supply .
The scientist also pointed out that, after the devastating passage of Hurricane Mitch, in late 1998, with an Unah team they carried out an investigation in Tegucigalpa, the center of the country; Choluteca, south, and Catacamas, east, « finding that the level of malnutrition in children under five years of age had increased. »
Presumably, then, something similar is happening now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.
The pandemic, isolation, frequently altered family structure and food security problems associated with stress « can lead to a psychological situation in a minor, » he said.
Other risk factors that children in many Honduran households face during the pandemic, Medina said, are domestic violence, psychological, physical or sexual abuse.
« These are factors that we call post-traumatic stress, which corresponds to a series of manifestations linked to extreme situations of anxiety, which can cause a series of symptoms that range from anxiety, sleep disorders, eating disorders, appetite, irritability and panic, among others, Medina said.
To these factors we must add, he stressed, the high levels of violence in the country, in addition to intra-family violence.
According to official sources, criminal violence in Honduras averages between ten and thirteen deaths.
Among other things, Medina pointed out that, before the COVID-19 pandemic, « many people in our community do not realize that they are suffering from a problem in their mental health. »
Germán Reyes