Colombia: Mental Challenges Amidst Violence, Drug Abuse, and Illicit Alcohol - Research Paper

Published: 2023-10-15
Colombia: Mental Challenges Amidst Violence, Drug Abuse, and Illicit Alcohol - Research Paper
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Violence World Drug abuse
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1721 words
15 min read


Colombia is globally famous for the prevalence of violence and drug use and dealing (Tamayo-Agudelo & Bell, 2018). The existence of violence, as well as the prevalence of illicit alcohol and drug abuse, has created a widespread rise in mental health situations among Colombians. Despite the progress made in the country away from conflict and displacement, such vices still exist in the Colombian society. As such, Colombia is one of the highest-ranking nations in mental challenges globally. In this essay, the author intends to analyze the prevalence of mental disorders in Colombia and the harmful roles such a deep penetration of mental illnesses does to the Columbian society. Probable intervention mechanisms to various forms of mental health disorders shall also be analyzed.

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Literature review

According to the WHO, Mental health disorders may present themselves in a variety of forms (Patel et al., 2007). Some examples of mental disorders include depression, dementia, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and several developmental disorders. While these disorders affect different demographics in varying degrees, they all present a worrying concern for various societies. These disorders affect one´s mood, behavior, and thinking processes. As such, individuals suffering from mental disorders may display disturbing traits. Mental health is sometimes used to refer to the general absence of mental disorders. The balance between cognitive and psychological resilience and life responsibility and activities should be carefully considered while understanding individuals´ mental health (Patel et al., 2007). Globally, mental health disorders continue to rise in prevalence. The level of preparation of the global response to this growing trend in mental illness is, on the other hand, worrying. In 2017, the Global Burden of Disease study posited that up to 10% of the world´s population is suffering from a mental disorder (Ritchie & Roser, 2018). The situation of the mental health conditions and campaigns in the lower and middle-income countries is often mired in the strange interaction between the societal disinterest in mental health conversation and the general preference for the western models for handling such conditions (Patel et al., 2007). Globally, the fight to encourage mental health is always viewed as an ideal of the more established nations. Research into the mental health disorders still appears to address the Western-style conception of mental health. Overall, individuals in lower-income countries remain feeling non-obliged to adopt or conform to such models. They grow indifferent to what they feel is the attempts of the wealthier nations to impose their societal conception of a notion that they don’t hold as highly in their societal fabric. The various interventions to mental health disorders often appear unsubstantiated in the multiple contexts of non-western societies.

In this study, we shall consider the case of Colombia, a third world country in the American continent that has continued to post disappointing numbers of mental disorders. The decision to focus on Colombia for this study is informed by the studies in global mental health trends that rates Colombia highly on the prevalence of mental health disorders (Ricaurte et al., 2019).

Research continues to identify trauma from sustained conflict, drug addiction, and withdrawal-related disorders, interfamilial conflicts, gender-based violence, among other factors as the causes of the increasing mental disorders in the Country (Tamayo-Agudelo & Bell, 2018). Such a wide-ranging conceptualization of the disorders in the South American country prompts the need for increased psychopharmacological and psychotherapeutic modalities for providing modernized diagnosis and treatment of the sensitive health factors. The mental health concerns in Colombia results from the accrued effects of the 60-years old armed conflict throughout the nation. This unrelenting conflict has overlaid homicides, gender-based violence, and gang activities with detrimental impacts on the mental health of society´s generations. This study specifically focuses on the youth generation who are presumed to be the most vulnerable population when it comes to such violence (Ricaurte et al., 2019).

Research Brief


In this second step of the study, the author shall describe the mental health situation in Columbia. After breaking down the demographic units and the prevalence of mental disorders through such demographics, the author focuses on the youth demographic. The youths are chosen for this analysis for their perceived high perceptibility to the causative factors of violence in the South American state. Mental health in Colombia is often related to drug use, protracted war, and gang activities. These criminal ways are often postulated to involve the youths significantly. Thus, the after-effect of such violent trends is presumed to possess intense trauma for both the victims and the offenders (Ricaurte et al., 2019).

Colombia is a south-American country with approximately 50million citizen population. The country is most famous globally for its music and coffee. Sadly though, Colombia is also renowned for drug trafficking and protracted military and gang violence. It is in light of such a history of violence that the author decided to study the mental health disorders of the Colombian population. According to the National Survey of Mental Health in Colombia in 2003, 40% of the respondents satisfied the criteria for ranking ‘any mental disorder’ on the DSM-IV scale. This implied that at least 2 in every 5 Colombian has suffered from some form of mental disorder during their lives (Chaskel et al., 2015).

Relevant History and Root Causes

As already implied earlier in this analysis, Colombia has experienced some of the longest internal armed violence globally (Burgess & Fonseca, 2019). Such a protracted conflict resulted from the increased drug conflicts between the guerrilla fighters and the traffickers. The bipartisan political violence initially fuelled the war from the 1940s (Chaskel et al., 2015). When the conflict became drug-fueled and guerilla model revolution, it found new and dangerous dimensions that made the war to penetrate all the facets of society. Youth recruitment and gender dimensions of the fight are some of the gross effects of the war that resulted in the increased attention to the mental health of the youth populations in the country. Their involvement as both aggressors and as victims in the violence made them highly susceptible to psychiatric disorders, including traumatic episodes.

Whereas the war was ended through a peace agreement between the government and the guerrillas, the long-lasting effects of the strife left everlasting marks on the youths and the citizenry of Colombia. The ‘victims of armed conflict’ terminology were then constituted to attempt to reintegrate the deviants into society while developing a united front for a united Colombia. However, such efforts did not yield as many fruits as anticipated. Conflict and non-conflict related violence continues to rock the Columbian society while taking casualties that range from youth populations to vulnerable women and children. It is impossible to talk about Columbian youth mental health without referring to the prevalent drug and substance trafficking through the country (Chaskel et al., 2015).

Health Outcome Data

As stated in this study, up to 40% of Colombians fall within the minimum limits for ‘any mental disorder.’ (Chaskel et al., 2015). The prevalence of drug and substance-related disorders continue to remain a menace in the Colombian society. From the 2003 National Survey of Mental Health study, 10% of the respondents met the substance abuse disorder, with alcohol use, for instance, beginning at the tender ages of 14 in the population. This survey, furthermore, determined the link between substance abuse and psychiatric illnesses such as depression. Gender-based violence has also been shown to be consistently high within the Colombian community. Such heightened instances of gender violence are often associated with drug abuse, conflict, and non-conflict violence among radicalized youths. Another heartbreaking statistic in the Colombian mental health concerns is the portion of the mental health cases that qualify as disabilities, and that end up in suicides. It is determined that up to 18% of the psychiatric cases qualify as disability cases. The 4.9% suicide attempt rates as well as the 4.4 suicides/100 000 citizens ration positions Colombia as part of the leading suicide cases per 100,000 globally (Chaskel et al., 2015).

Health Initiatives

Colombia has attempted to achieve universal healthcare coverage. The coverage takes about 8% of the national GDP through a two-tiered system. However, socio-economic disparities continue to exist in the healthcare department through an over-focus on the wealthier section in society. The government is charged with implementing the healthcare initiatives for individuals. There are a total of about 900 psychiatrists and 1500 psychologists in the specialized healthcare sector of Colombia. This number is determined to be deficient, considering the theorized percentage of individuals living with some form of mental health issue. Furthermore, the hospital capacities for specialized psychiatric care have also continued to decrease in recent times, thus creating overcrowding. The healthcare initiatives in Colombia are, therefore insufficient for addressing the prevalent drug and violence-related mental health issues (Chaskel et al., 2015).


This research brief has unveiled concisely the mental health situation in a developing country – Colombia. In the brief analysis, the author has attempted to gain an insight into the continuing menace of mental disorders in the South American country. A review of the literature has revealed the disinterested approach to mental health among low-income societies. The brief then focuses on the historical causative factors to the rampant mental health concerns in the nation. In the penultimate sections of this study, the author summarizes the efforts by the Colombian government to address the mental disorders of the individual citizens as well as the data around the prevalence and the battle against mental health issues and the stigma associated with the problems.


Burgess, R. A., & Fonseca, L. (2019). Re-thinking recovery in post-conflict settings: Supporting the mental well-being of communities in Colombia. Global Public Health, 15(2), 200–219.

Chaskel, R., Gaviria, S. L., Espinel, Z., Taborda, E., Vanegas, R., & Shultz, J. M. (2015). Mental health in Colombia. BJPsych. International, 12(4), 95–97.

Patel, V., Flisher, A. J., Hetrick, S., & Mcgorry, P. (2007). Mental health of young people: a global public-health challenge. The Lancet, 369(9569), 1302–1313.

Ricaurte, J. C., Karim, L. L., Botero, M. A. M., & Hessel, P. (2019). The invisible wounds of five decades of armed conflict: inequalities in mental health and their determinants in Colombia. International Journal of Public Health, 64(5), 703–711.

Ritchie, H., & Roser, M. (2018, January 20). Mental Health. Our World in Data.

Tamayo-Agudelo, W., & Bell, V. (2018). Armed conflict and mental health in Colombia. BJPsych International, 16(02), 40–42.

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Colombia: Mental Challenges Amidst Violence, Drug Abuse, and Illicit Alcohol - Research Paper. (2023, Oct 15). Retrieved from

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