On Friday, May 24, Redes da Maré (Maré Development Networks NGO) led a conversation at Galpão Bela Maré—a cultural center in Maré, in Rio de Janeiro’s North Zone—to discuss ways to improve mental health treatment in favelas. The discussion is part of a series of activities and mobilizations against mental asylums in Brazil in commemoration of National Anti-Mental Asylum Struggle Day, May 18. The anti-asylum movement in Brazil seeks to not only recognize the rights of citizens with mental health issues but also to create new social spaces to aid in the treatment of these issues. The session discussed creating such spaces particularly in favelas, and also addressed the growing problem of healthcare privatization and treatment center closings in the city and how this is especially harmful to favela residents.
An issue that is often overlooked in communities with limited resources, mental illness and substance abuse tend to deeply affect the personal, family, and work lives of favela residents. Those who lack adequate resources to seek treatment may perceive that mental health treatment is a luxury afforded only to the wealthy. In the absence of accessible care, many lower-income individuals suffer throughout their lives with issues such as depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol abuse without proper treatment, greatly affecting their familial life and productivity.
The conversation was mediated by Luna Arouca, a program coordinator at Espaço Normal (“Normal Space”), a project by Redes da Maré that serves as the first center designed specifically for favela residents affected by drug and alcohol abuse, based in Nova Holanda, Maré and also serving other communities along Avenida Brasil. The main objective is to create a wide network of care centers in the area in order to provide alternatives to counter the damaging effects of the war on drugs.
The talk included a speech by Lillian Leonel, who frequents Espaço Normal. Leonel spoke of the various ways in which Espaço Normal has helped her fight issues arising from drug abuse and homelessness. She described Espaço Normal as a dependable network that helps her access support from Psycho-Social Care Centers (CAPS) and healthcare professionals. More importantly, she emphasized the difference in treatment between mental asylums and treatments offered through Espaço Normal. “[Here], we are considered sick [and needing treatment],” she stated. “What would we do in an asylum? They wouldn’t help us. They would just stop us from living our lives.”
Another featured speaker was Renata Souza, a state representative from Maré. She described the criminalization of drug abuse as part of the structural racism that is ingrained in the city and as something that predominantly affects low-income black communities in the city’s peripheries. She described mental asylums as another means to control poor black people instead of an attempt to treat these mental health issues. She stated, “If a black poor person isn’t shot, then they’re incarcerated. They’re incarcerated inside asylums. They’re incarcerated within the criminal justice system.” Souza emphasized the need to continue the fight against mental asylums to prevent the continued incarceration of poor black people from the periphery.
Other speakers included Daniele Menezes, a psychologist at the Miriam Makeba Psycho-Social Care Center in Bonsucesso; Daniel Souza, an organizer and founder of the Street Clinic in Jacarezinho; and Beatriz Adura, a psychologist and member of the collective Niterói Without Asylums.
The conversation ended in a question and answer session with the invited guests, as well as a cultural activity and poetry reading. The event successfully provided information on and expanded understandings of the ways in which mental health should be discussed and treated in favelas. This event was just one of many of the movement against mental asylums and fight for better mental health treatment in Rio.