Since 2009, life expectancy has increased worldwide, according to a study published today in the journal PNA. The data, collected by the Gallup company by telephone, show that if in 2009 25% of people acknowledged that they had depression, anxiety or stress for much of the previous day, in 2021 the figure rose to 31%. The interviews covered more than 1.5 million people from 113 countries.
The data, analyzed by Michael Daly and Lucy Macchia, from the University of Maynooth in Ireland, shows that people of lower economic status have worse mental health. Last year the study collected more than a ten point difference between the richest 20% of people and the poorest 20%. You also see a faster increase in the mental state of people who only have a basic education compared to those who can get a higher school or university degree.
During the covid 19 pandemic, a 2.5% increase in population anxiety was also detected. From that peak, it fell in 2021, although the figures remained above pre-pandemic data. The study also indicates that the pandemic had a different impact on age. Those over 55 years of age continued to have worse figures year by year, but, according to the data, they did not suffer more intense decay, as those below that age. In particular, those under 35, who studied throughout the entire period, were the ones who recognized the least vital anxiety, surpassing those over 55, and came closer to those between 35 and 55, who are at the most difficult age. After the pandemic, although the pain is reduced, the young people who experienced an increase of four points compared to the average of 2.5, the third place in the magnitude of the pain did not return to normal. This work, as others have previously published, also noted that women, during the pandemic, suffered more long-term psychological deterioration than men.
The authors state that their results agree with other studies that “indicate that the pandemic had an adverse psychological effect of small magnitude.” In addition, “this increase was short-lived”, consistent with the findings that suggest “the population has adapted smoothly to the stressful circumstances of the pandemic and recovered relatively quickly from the initial hiccup of the quarantine period”.
Regarding the reasons for the negative trend in mental health across the planet, Daly believes that “many factors can vary by country and period.” Among other things, the researcher points to the consequences of the financial crisis of 2008, which caused “job security and debt problems for many”, and to instability in many parts of the world. Daly also mentions “concerns about the decline of social cohesion in some countries, which are turning to loneliness and isolation that can contribute to feelings of anguish.” Finally, the researcher points to the possible role of the “technological environment, associated with an increase in information, product demands or collaboration with others”, as another source of discomfort, and admits that increased awareness of mental problems can make visible problems. which have already preceded, even if they were not measured.
Carmen Rodríguez Blázquez, a researcher at the National Epidemiology Center of the Carlos III Institute of Health, believes that “no one has an explanation” for the trend shown by studies such as those published today by PNAS. “There are always many reasons for emotional disturbances and illnesses, such as the economic crisis, which always has an influence, or a greater awareness of mental health, which we see especially from the pandemic,” he explains. In particular, it agrees with the data that is reflected in this work, which shows a worse situation for people in worse education and fewer resources. “Mental disorders are closely linked to economic and social inequalities and a lack of resources, which is evident in study after study,” he concludes.
The mental psychologist believes that increasing information on mental illness “may be due to increased awareness of the problem, which is useful for people to ask for help.” However, it is sad that “if we raise awareness about mental disorders, but it does not increase the amount of resources to treat the problem, that awareness can be counterproductive, because it generates vanity, and that is what happens.”
Along with the increase in resources dedicated to making psychologists or psychiatrists more accessible, the data reflected in the Gallup polls show that economic and social development itself translates, in principle, into better mental health. However, data such as suicide figures, which are very high in developed countries such as Scandinavia and lower in southern Europe or northern Africa, show the complexity of the problem and the unhelpfulness of simple answers. Economic development is often accompanied by a change in the social context, which reinforces individualism. “In Spain, family and social support protects against some mental problems, but they are becoming more and more like the Nordic countries,” says Rodríguez Blázquez. Global studies will be a necessary tool to begin to grasp the full extent of the unknown.
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