BACKGROUND: The present study seeks to evaluate the change in mental health inequalities in the department of Meta after the signing of Colombia's Peace Agreement in 2016 with the FARC guerrilla group. Using a validated survey instrument composed of 20 questions ('SRQ-20'), we measure changes in mental health inequalities from 2014, before the signing of the agreement, to 2018, after the signing. We then decompose the changes in inequalities to establish which socioeconomic factors explain differences in mental health inequalities over time.
METHODS: Our study uses information from the Conflicto, Salud y Paz (CONPAS) survey conducted in the department of Meta, Colombia, in 1309 households in 2018, with retrospective information for 2014. To measure inequalities, we calculate the concentration indices for both years. Through the Oaxaca change decomposition method, we disaggregate changes in mental health inequalities into its underlying factors. This method allows us to explain the relationship between changes in mental health inequalities and changes in inequalities in several sociodemographic factors. It also identifies the extent to which these factors help explain the changes in mental health inequalities.
RESULTS: Mental health inequalities in Meta were reduced almost by half from 2014 to 2018. In 2018, the population at the lower and middle socioeconomic levels had fewer chances of experiencing mental health disorders in comparison to 2014. The reduction in mental health differences is mostly attributed to reductions in the influence of certain sociodemographic variables, such as residence in rural zones and conflict-affected territories, working in the informal sector, or experiencing internal displacement. However, even though mental health inequalities have diminished, overall mental health outcomes have worsened in these years.
CONCLUSIONS: The reduction in the contribution of conflict-related variables for explaining mental health inequalities could mean that the negative consequences of conflict on mental health have started to diminish in the short run after the peace agreement. Nevertheless, conflict and the presence of other socioeconomic inequalities still contribute to persistent adverse mental health outcomes in the overall population. Thus, public policy should be oriented towards improving mental health care services in these territories, given the post-accord context.