The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened Latin America’s mental health crisis, with researchers now using online tools to detect and treat these issues in local students. According to a UNICEF survey, 27% of young people in the Americas reported symptoms of anxiety, while 15% reported symptoms of depression. Economic conditions were cited as the main trigger for these mental health conditions. Lorena Cudris Torres, a full professor at De La Costa University in Colombia, is involved in the development of a transnational project called “Yo Puedo Sentirme Bien (I Can Feel Good).” This project aims to detect and treat common anxiety and depressive symptoms in undergraduate students aged 18 and older with 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 with guidance from mental health professionals. The project has seen 3,002 students participate over two years, with satisfaction rates of 92% for guided i-CBT treatment and 89% for self-administered i-CBT treatment. These results demonstrate that tailored treatment approaches can be effective for students.
Cudris-Torres emphasizes that online psychological interventions do not replace psychologists but rather expand the impact of psychological knowledge on people’s well-being. The project was led by the Ramon de la Fuente Muñiz Institute in Mexico, in collaboration with Harvard University and universities in Mexico and Colombia. It was funded by the US National Institute of Mental Health as a cross-border initiative in response to donations.
Cudris-Torres’ interest in studying human behavior stemmed from her studies in social sciences, which allowed her to see different social realities in various situations. She studied psychology at Universidad Antonio Nariño in Colombia and specialized in public management at the Universidad Santander, where she obtained her Doctorate of Educational Sciences.
Cudris-Torres believes that scientists from the Global South have a unique perspective for analyzing social problems due to their beliefs, worldviews, and outlooks on life. She plans to discuss the specific social and cultural realities of Latin America in relation to the knowledge and use of modern information and communication technologies to solve social problems. However, she acknowledges the major deficiencies in access and use of technology in the region.
In other parts of the Global South, researchers like Sundarsan (Sandy) Onye in Indonesia are examining online mental health interventions. Onye explores how Google Adwords can be used to provide mental health support. He is also dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of mental health and wellness through scientific research in Indonesia.
Meanwhile, Andrew Wight-Oney, a researcher at the Black Dog Research Institute in Sydney, Australia, experienced depression in middle school and, with the support of friends, recovered. This experience sparked his passion for mental health research and improving the lives of others.
As an Australian science journalist based in Colombia, I cover STEM topics in the Global South. I am the Vice-President of the Colombian Association for Science Journalism (ACPC) and helped organize the 12th World Congress of Science Journalists, held in Medellin, Colombia, which attracted over 600 participants.