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The Role of Online Tools in Enhancing Latin American Students’ Mental Health


Sep 18, 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the mental health crisis in Latin America. To address this issue, researchers are utilizing online tools to identify and treat problems among local students. A survey conducted by UNICEF for the Americas revealed that 27% of young people reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety, 15% reported symptoms of depression, and a third of them attributed economic conditions as the main trigger for these mental health conditions.

In response to this crisis, Lorena Cudris-Torres, a full professor at De La Costa University in Barranquilla, Colombia, has been instrumental in developing a transnational project called “Yo Puedo Sentirme Bien (I Can Feel Good).” This project focuses on detecting and treating common anxiety and depressive symptoms, and it has been tested on undergraduate students at seven universities in Colombia and Mexico who are 18 years old or older and have clinically significant anxiety or depression. Cudris-Torres is a co-author of a recent paper published in the international journal JAMA Psychiatry, which found that internet-based self-guided cognitive behavioral therapy (i-CBT) can be effective for treating depression, but not anxiety, when coupled with guidance from mental health professionals.

Over the course of two years, the project has engaged 3,002 students, with satisfaction rates of 92% for guided i-CBT treatment and 89% for self-administered i-CBT treatment. Cudris-Torres emphasizes that these results demonstrate the importance of tailoring treatment to the individual profiles of the students and that online psychological interventions should not be seen as a replacement for psychologists, but rather as a means of expanding the reach of psychological knowledge and improving people’s well-being.

The project was led by the Ramon de la Fuente Muñiz Institute, Mexico’s National Institute of Mental Health, in collaboration with Harvard University and universities in Mexico and Colombia. It was funded by the US National Institute of Mental Health and was conducted as a cross-border initiative in response to donations.

Cudris-Torres, influenced by her father, was born in northern Colombia and developed an interest in studying human behavior through her education in social sciences. She later studied psychology at Universidad Antonio Nariño in Colombia, specialized in public management at Universidad Santander, and earned a doctorate in educational sciences at Universidad de Cuauhtémoc in Mexico. She believes that scientists from the Global South have a unique perspective on analyzing social issues due to their understanding of the specific social and cultural realities of Latin America and their lived experiences in the region.

Other researchers in different parts of the world are also exploring online mental health interventions. For instance, Andrew Wight-Oney, a researcher at the Black Dog Research Institute at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, became passionate about mental health research and open science after recovering from depression with the support of his church community. He is dedicated to improving the lives and mental health of others based on his own experiences.

In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the mental health crisis in Latin America, and researchers like Lorena Cudris-Torres and Andrew Wight-Oney are utilizing online interventions to address this issue and improve the well-being of individuals in their respective regions.

By Editor

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