The United Kingdom Academy of Medical Sciences advanced in a study that mental health could become the new pandemic that would threaten us in a few years. The number of cases of anxiety and depression increased between 25 and 30 percent in 2020, due to the pandemic. 68 percent of that picture was represented by the female population. This was the conclusion of the first study that evaluated the impact of the pandemic on mental health on a global scale.
As for the most affected group, the study determined that it was the group between 20 and 34 years old. The changing conditions in which we grew up, live and work today, still blamed for gender roles, mistreated by economic instability and with expectations different from those of our mothers, makes us the most vulnerable group in the face of this type of disorder.
My name is Emma and I belong to that age group: I am 28 years old, I am a woman and I have had generalized anxiety for more than six months. Since I began to be aware of my problem, I try to lead a calmer life, not subject myself to much stress, I take my 10mg of escitalopram a day, I go to the psychologist twice a month and I keep going. It has been a long road to get to this point.
Although the pandemic made me know myself and inevitably think more about my mental well-being, in recent years my state of anxiety has worsened considerably. Meanwhile, I combated it with yoga and long walks on the river. But my nightmares came back out of nowhere, from any thought I put together a Greek tragedy. I felt my heart beating fast and the feeling of suffocation resurfaced inside me every so often. I confessed it to my father and my mother, I don’t know if they understood it, after all, they are from another generation.
It seems like a fairly notorious and common topic to talk about with your family, partner or friends, or share it in public and in private. However, if the governments do not give it greater importance, how are we going to give it to them? The data and the measly 5.16% that the Spanish Government allocated to mental health of the total public health spending in 2021 say so. Spain and Bulgaria are the two countries in the European Union with the fewest mental health professionals, adding psychiatrists , psychologists and specialized nurses.
I remember when Simone Biles walked out of the Tokyo Olympics last year, saying she wasn’t having fun and wanted to focus on her well-being. This event generated a global debate regarding sport, competition and mental health. Even the most recognized newspapers opened their covers with headlines talking about the subject. It is not that it was recurrent to read or hear about mental health, at least during my journalism career I never heard a related headline.
Shortly after, Naomi Osaka, the most iconic figure in Japanese sport, who had previously left the Roland Garros tournament due to episodes of anxiety, burst into tears acknowledging that she had felt “shame” after her latest events and because of the media exposure. I really like tennis, especially watching it, and I remember empathizing with Osaka’s words, but that was before everything, even before I started taking medication.
The truth is that at that time it seemed like a big step for me that figures so recognized and with extraterrestrial physical abilities for me recognized that they had suffered a mental disorder. I thought in a way it was positive because it made the invisible visible. Later, in the fall of 2021, the actress Verónica Forqué took her own life, the victim of a depression that she had been dragging for years and that became evident in the last program in which she participated: Master Chef Celebrity. The mental health debate dragged on, but was soon forgotten again.
It is necessary to change the contemporary narrative that imposes us to be positive and happy young people, without the possibility of showing ourselves fragile. I think of all those women who must have felt like me, I want to hug them, tell them that they are not alone. I come from a misunderstood generation: the Millennials. We live the transition to the digital age, but we were not born into it. Time magazine cataloged us in 2014 as the yo-yo-yo generation, we are considered narcissistic and lazy, but in the end we are the ones who suffer the most.
We have had to leave home, far away, to other countries, even with studies and languages. We drag home traumas and those we live day to day, precarious jobs, not having a stable life, being judged, professional dreams that we never fulfilled, abandoning the family or not being present.
The poet Clairel Estévez speaks of scars not as wounds on the skin, but as the ordeal of a heart intoxicated by anguish and the hidden tears of a soul, shattered by feelings. A metaphor of how sadness and distance with the world are experienced. Some of us combat our unhappiness with writing, the arts, or sports. Perhaps it functions as a refuge from our frustration with a society that blames us for our emotional discomfort.
Perhaps it is time, as Marie Curie said, to understand more to fear less, or to open the debate on why it is important to claim mental health. That it is not a passing matter, nor taboo, nor the ridiculous 5.16 percent of annual public health spending. To be honest, we don’t want to experience an emotional pandemic.