On October 10, World Mental Health Day is celebrated, a day of vindication even more necessary if possible now as a result of the effects produced by the COVID-19 pandemic. And it is that during this period, the Cantabrian Association for Mental Health (ASCASAM) has noticed a notable increase in people who have come requesting psychological support from their professionals. For its president, Ignacio Fernández Allende, economic, gender or geographical inequalities are the cause of most of the disorders. As an example, he points out in conversation with elDiario.es that “10.7% of the population consumes tranquilizers or sleeping pills and the percentage of women is double that of men.” “We must try to tackle the inequalities that exist and that cause a gap in the population,” he remarks.
How has the pandemic affected, from your point of view, the mental health of citizens?
The pandemic, and there are the official Public Health statistics, has had a very important impact, fundamentally on a child-adolescent population, multiplying data on care in mental health units.
Specifically, what are the main mental health problems that are currently detected?
There is a serious problem of anxiety and stress, and others that are generated by work problems and coexistence for so long in the homes, because sometimes family groups suffer.
That is, is the economic factor one of the main causes that motivate mental health disorders?
It has a significant influence, let’s not fool ourselves. Economic inequality is one of the issues we address on World Mental Health Day. It is a determining factor.
Between 70 and 80% of people who have lost their home or have difficulty paying their rent or mortgage have mental health problems
In addition to the child and youth sector, is there any other age group that is particularly affected?
The older one. They are the two groups most affected. Regarding the first, it must be taken into account that a confinement such as the one we have had has greatly affected people who need social and educational development, as occurs in children and adolescents.
And until when will the consequences be noticed?
When it returns to normality completely and when people have economic, labor, health and social security.
Have you noticed that more people with problems of this type have come to your association in the last year and a half marked by COVID-19?
Yes, of course, it goes without saying. During the pandemic, ASCASAM launched a psychology telephone service system. We started with two professionals and increased them to 11. At the end of the confinement, as anyone could attend in person, we stopped providing this service, which was universal and free, and the College of Psychologists has implemented a specific care protocol to people who have suffered some type of behavioral disorder during the pandemic.
Against the COVID-19 pandemic we have found vaccines, but what is the vaccine, metaphorically speaking, against mental health disorders?
It is necessary to try to tackle a series of inequalities that exist and that cause a gap in the population. These inequalities are economic, since between 70 and 80% of people who have lost their home or have difficulty paying their rent or mortgage have mental health problems. They are also geographical, since the rural habitat has a higher prevalence of having mental health problems than the urban environment because it has worse services. Gender inequality is also noteworthy. And it is that almost 11%, specifically 10.7% of the population consumes tranquilizers or sleeping pills and the percentage of women is double that of men. In addition, three out of four women with mental health problems have suffered sexist violence at some point in their lives. But there are more inequalities: because of racism, in the educational field or because of psychosocial disability, among others. If we are able to alleviate all of them, I am sure that mental health would improve significantly.
To try to reduce these inequalities that you mention, political action and commitment is essential. Do you perceive that currently it is more common for there to be parliamentary debates on this issue?
Yes, the will exists, but we also have to bear in mind that, oddly enough, a few days ago a motion was presented to modify an article of the Constitution where people with disabilities are treated as “disabled”, and we thought that there was going to be unanimity and an absolute majority in their favor, but there were two groups that abstained. So today we have to support that people with disabilities, legally and according to the Constitution, are treated with that term.
When we spoke five years ago in another interviewYou remarked to me that when it comes to mental health, “there is an important social stigma, something that people are not aware of.” Has anything changed since then?
It has been improving. And the proof is that on television we see campaigns of prestigious entities and that much progress has been made in the treatment in the media. For example, at the EFE Agency, at the headquarters of the Fundéu Foundation, we presented a style book on what we understood by vocabulary to be used and how mental illness should be treated in the media. All this makes this problem have more presence in a society that is realizing that mental illnesses are on the rise. We have come a long way, mental health is at the forefront of the social and political agenda, and that is very important.
Last March, when the deputy of Más País, Íñigo Errejón, intervened in Congress addressing the mental health problems generated by the pandemic, a deputy from the PP he yelled from his bench “Go to the doctor!”. What did you think of this attitude?
This attitude is reprehensible and is not admissible in society, much less in Parliament. Congressman Íñigo Errejón was listing a series of needs that we have collected within the Spanish Mental Health Confederation. The feeling that he caused us is that he enters our website regularly because many of the claims are those that he collected. That a deputy on a matter as serious as this and of such importance adopts what I consider an insult is not acceptable.
Do you think that this attitude reflects the little importance or even the pejorative connotation that mental health problems have for part of the population?
Yes that’s how it is. I agree completely.
Finally, in the face of World Mental Health Day, what are the main objectives?
The objectives are always to disseminate and promote mental health, to defend rights and social inclusion, and to sensitize the population. It is a vindictive and festive day in the sense that we go out into the streets to express our problems. I also have to say that every year all the authorities that may be involved attend. The ministries that affect mental health, which are not only those of Health and Social Policies, but also the Presidency or Education, as well as parliamentary and municipal groups, and authorities such as the president himself. They are there with us, which means that they give importance to the act and that, as I said before, we are on the political agenda.