WITH Russia’s war on Ukraine following hot on the heels of the Covid pandemic, it’s natural that many people are feeling stressed. With a constant existential threat affecting our lives, public mental health has taken a nosedive and complaints such as anxiety and depression are becoming more widespread.

In the face of rising cases, are Spain’s mental health services up to the job?

Worrying statistics

As far back as 2020, a study from the School of Psychology at Computense University of Madrid assessed the psychological impact of Covid on Spain’s population. It showed an increase in depressive symptoms, that younger people are getting worse depression and anxiety, and females in society worse anxiety. Some 2.5 to 3% of the adult population have mental health complaints and 6.9% suffer anxiety.

Younger people are badly affected. In its ‘State of the World’s Children 2021’ report, UNICEF estimates that 13% of those aged 10 to 19 have a mental health disorder. 

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Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

In 50% of cases, mental disorders begin before the age of 14. In Spain, statistics suggest that one in ten over-15s are affected. 

The internet hasn’t helped our anxiety levels. Just as pro-science and anti-vax videos did the rounds in 2020-21, in 2022, the world can watch the Ukraine conflict through videos uploaded to social networks, with poor filters against misinformation. 

We’ve all seen the footage of dead bodies, explosions, and other frightening scenes.

 Roxane Cohen Silver, a professor of psychological science at the University of California, Irvine, says mental health is influenced by how much media a person consumes and how graphic the content.

Spain’s incoming mental health law

With public mental health on a downward spiral, in September 2021, Spain presented to Congress a new law called ‘Ley de Salud Mental’.

This aims to increase access to relevant services, reduce suicide rates, and destigmatise mental health issues, with €2.5m budgeted to spend on information campaigns. It also aims to create psychological clinics for young people, as well as guaranteeing the rights of those with mental health problems.

Certainly, access to services is an issue. Per 100,000 inhabitants, mental healthcare provision is limited to 10 psychiatrists, 6 psychologists and 7.5 specialist nurses. 

Carlos Aguilera of the Asociacion Nacional de Enfermeras de Salud (AEESME) insists this should rise to 30 specialist nurses per 100,000 population, calling it “essential”.

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Photo by Sasun Bughdaryan on Unsplash

Primitive treatments

Meanwhile, some of the treatments in Spain are markedly “old school”. 

A reader from Lanjaron told the Olive Press: “Mental health services in my area are extremely limited, consisting of one state psychiatric clinic in the local health centre. The purpose appears to be issue pills for ‘depression’ – and no diagnosis. My daughter was on these pills when she faked a suicide attempt. She was then prescribed more pills, instead of dealing with the symptoms of her disorder.”

But when her daughter’s mental health worsened, so did the treatment.

“Eventually, she was committed to the local hospital’s psychiatric unit, which can only accommodate around 10 patients. No treatment was offered, other than being highly sedated. I saw men and women locked up together in a very small ward,” she recalled.

“One guy had his groin taped up with gaffer tape – presumably to prevent him exposing himself to fellow patients. It was like something from Dickens – shuffling, muttering, dosed-up patients wandering about and largely ignored by the staff, except when they were forcibly made to take showers. The whole ward was like a prison – locks and bolts everywhere and restricted visiting.

 “After eight days, they said my daughter was being released – although nothing had been done to diagnose or alleviate her condition. She came out unable to even dress herself and certainly no better.”

A raft of pills

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Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Maggie Greg, a Cadiz resident who suffers from borderline personality disorder, says: “I’ve been using the mental health system for a long time. It depends on who you get re therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Many will happily put you on some meds or treatment without spending long enough to obtain a correct diagnosis. Also, they will give you strong meds, such as Xanax, if you suggest them yourself,” she explained.

 “I was offered Lithium after being seen four times for under 30 minutes each time, for a condition that was misdiagnosed. Fortunately, I turned it down. 

“I’ve been on Xanax for over eight years now. A UK doctor told me they would not have prescribed it, as better drugs have been available for some time.” 

Go private or online

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Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

Maggie says that she’s considering moving her treatment to the private sector and has assessed online resources such as Betterhelp, which offers registered counsellors for £40-£70 a week.  

She explains: “I’m starting from scratch with a new psychiatrist and hope it will work out better. If not, I’ll have to go private, which will cost €16,50 a month on co-pay with my medical insurance, otherwise it’s €50-60 a session, which I cannot afford.”

Many people find the cost of the private sector prohibitive, and are stuck with the public system, which remains under-resourced, meaning they can wait a long time for treatment. It’s likely that many have never obtained an appointment, or an assessment, hiding the true scale of the problem.

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