News from the Regions

Mexico, Central America and Caribbean


The WFMH Regional Council for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean has announced an important expansion of its main program, the mental health telephone counselling service SAPTEL (Sistema Nacional de Apoyo Psicologico por Telefono). This service was started in the Mexico City metropolitan area on 12 October 1992, to coincide with the first observance of World Mental Health Day. Under the leadership of former WFMH President and current Board member Federico Puente it has continued to grow in the Mexico City area, and last year it expanded its service to the province of Chiapas.

Recently the new Mexican President, Vicente Fox, granted SAPTEL 4 million Mexican pesos (the equivalent of about US$514,000) to make the telephone counselling service available throughout the country. The new national service came into operation on 16 July. The Mexican Red Cross, a partner in the enterprise from the beginning, has now provided SAPTEL with its own building. The telephone system used for the operation has been modernized and expanded, and an 800 number has been set up for free access.

Mexican universities require a year of volunteer social work from students after graduation. The SAPTEL system makes use of this requirement by recruiting among those newly qualified in areas connected with mental health. A tightly structured training and supervision program is provided, staffed by thirty senior university lecturers. WFMH Board member Andres Gaitan Gonzalez has played a leading role in developing this aspect of the work.

The training program is now being expanded in order to staff more telephone lines. In a recent initiative SAPTEL will provide stipends for recent graduates who have already completed the social work requirement, to enable them to stay on as coordinators of new trainees within the expanded system.

In addition to the backing of the Mexican Red Cross, the project enjoys support from a large number of universities in the metropolitan area and from many other institutions and organizations concerned with mental health. Local radio and TV stations provide assistance by broadcasting public information announcements about the service.

Consumer Appointed at Ministry of Health

President Fox has appointed Virginia Gonzalez Torres as Deputy Director for Mental Health in the Ministry of Health. She is a leader of the consumers movement in Mexico, and the appointment will be generally helpful for mental health issues and the human rights of persons with mental illness.

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