Europe lives the days with less light of the year. Darkness dominates, cold advances, and the Ukrainian citizenry has to face this without electricity due to the bombings with which Vladimir Putin seeks to break the civilian population. In the EU, citizens are not subjected to such dramatic circumstances, but this does not prevent many, too many, who, looking at the overcast skies the color of metal and ash these days, have the feeling that they are mirrors. Depression, anxiety and pessimism eat away at many Europeans. Data prior to the pandemic placed the part of the population that suffered from chronic depression at around 7%. Studies abound indicating that mental disorders have skyrocketed during the pandemic phase. What is happening now?
Two studies published this week provide new elements to develop reflection on a plague that, fortunately, has attracted increasing political and media attention, but about which it is necessary to continue alerting until much more effective public responses to the current state are established. The first is Health at a glance: Europe 2022, a partnership between the OECD and the EU, which systematizes a large number of indicators compiled by national institutions; the second, Living, working and covid-19 in the EU and ten neighboring countriesprepared by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions and the European Training Foundation, two EU bodies, is a survey with a sample of some 39,000 European citizens and some 18,000 from neighboring countries.
The first study has a great impact on the mental disorders of the youth segment, with the cases of depression that more than doubled with the outbreak of the pandemic in many countries, and those of anxiety almost doubled. “A limited set of national data suggests that the mental health of young people has registered a slight improvement in the first half of 2022,” the document indicates. As for adults, an improvement is also detected with respect to the peaks of 2020 and 2021, but remaining at levels above the pre-pandemic levels. The stress linked to the covid crisis is evaporating, but the report points to the rise in the cost of living and the war in Ukraine as new destabilizing elements.
The second study offers strong indications of a link between the state of general health, and specifically mental health, and people’s purchasing power. 12% of those surveyed in the EU report a poor state of health. This figure reaches 22% in households with difficulties making ends meet, and remains at 5% in the most prosperous. Like general health, the risk of depression is also closely linked to economic conditions, the authors comment from the data collected. The report also includes a revealing fact: respondents from the EU are more pessimistic about the future than their neighbors, who do not enjoy the same level of development (Albania, Georgia, Jordan, Kosovo, Lebanon, Moldova, Morocco, South Macedonia). North, Palestine and Tunisia). Something is wrong. Underestimating the impact of the pandemic, first, and the loss of purchasing power, later, because it is not convenient for political reasons would be a serious mistake.
Mental problems are not exclusive to the less prosperous classes. Unfortunately, there are many cases of young people without material deprivations and, nevertheless, depressed by relational short circuits, lack of self-esteem, the disastrous quantifying weight of likes and followers in networks; or the cases of managers and super-professionals with anxiety, who continue in their posts because they can’t resist continuing to increase their ego and bank account, even if they are unhappy, they have to resort to lexatin. However, the central problem resides in the socioeconomically most fragile segment of the population. The individual and collective cost of not treating these conditions well is enormous. A powerful public health care response is needed. It is also necessary to continue raising awareness on a private scale, to continue erasing what remains of the stigma, and to improve the detection of symptoms. Understanding the meaning of certain symptoms in oneself or in the environment in time and reacting promptly, before they degenerate, is key to individual health as well as to public life.
This time is no worse than others. On the contrary, in many ways life has never been better. But the same legitimate expectation of a certain type of life creates great frustrations in those who do not have it; among those who do have it, stumbling blocks are frequent in the path of the enormous possibilities of personal projection, in the professional and social fields, which this time offers more than any other. The resistance of the Ukrainian people contains many lessons and calls us to action and optimism about what is possible. The winter solstice will soon arrive, and the days will begin to lengthen.
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