Pressure. The work environment can on many occasions be a cause of stress and anxiety. :: SUR
About 40 per cent of the population of Spain will suffer from anxiety or depression at some time in their life. This is an illness that can interfere in other vital aspects and result in people starting to take drugs or other addictive substances, although only half of those affected have been diagnosed and are undergoing treatment.
This is the conclusion of Dr. Salvador Ros, who is the president of the Spanish Association of Private Psychiatry, Dr. Antonio Arumí, the secretary of the same association, and Dr. Josep Ramón Doménech, the coordinator of the VII National Congress on Anxiety and Associated Disorders, which took place recently in Barcelona.
According to Salvador Ros, “In Spain more than six million people are affected by anxiety and it is the cause of 10 per cent of all absenteeism from work; this is seven per cent higher than the average in European countries.” The cause, he says, is mainly due to the serious economic crisis and the problems caused by the present unemployment situation.
Josep Ramón Doménech points out, “More than half of the people who suffer from depression do not ask for specialist help and just ignore their condition, and many others are not diagnosed as suffering from depressive illness because it is disguised as some type of organic or psychosomatic pathology.”
For this reason, the organisers of the conference suggested to the nearly 500 associates from all over Spain that a non-governmental organisation should be formed to provide free attention to people from districts where evictions and other economic problems are more severe than in other parts of the country, to try to alleviate the effects these have on the health of those who live there.
“We are sure,” says Antonio Arumí, “that there are psychiatrists who are willing to help these people, just as there were after the train accident that happened in Galicia last summer.”
Dr Arumí also says that the present situation of uncertainty and stress has a major effect, primarily on those aged between 50 and 65, and then those between 40 and 50. The unemployed, housewives and the self-employed are the sectors most affected by anxiety, and experts have also noted an increase in smoking and alcohol consumption among these groups, as well as a decline in healthy eating.
For his part, Salvador Ros says it is regrettable that during the past year some services for patients suffering from mental illness have been cut back, such as at the Hospital del Mar in Barcelona, where 80 beds for patients suffering acute mental disorders have been closed, and “massive dismissals” of specialists have taken place in the health service in Cataluña.
He also criticises the influence of certain “quacks”, or self-designated psychotherapists who are not doctors and who encourage patients suffering from depression or mental illness to stop taking medication.
Salvador Ros says the Colleges of Doctors need to tackle this problem of “intrusion”, while Antonio Arumí believes that psychiatric treatments can be complemented with other alternatives, such as homeopathy, acupuncture and others, but that patients should not be urged to stop using prescribed medication.
The VII National Congress on Anxiety and Associated Disorders covered subjects such as the needs of schizoaffective patients, ADHD in adults, anxiety and insomnica, a new treatment for agitation which has an immediate effect on patients and there was also a debate on ‘Rats or the couch?’, which discussed psychological treatments for anxiety.
Also discussed was treatment for obesity as one of the consequences of anxiety or depression, says Josep Ramón Doménech, who explained that between 50 and 70 per cent of people with obesity are likely to show some signs of associated psychiatric disorder.
“Obese patients have a higher probability of suffering from psychiatric problems, in the same way that patients with mental illness are more likely to become obese,” he says.
The conference also heard that other surveys about the psychological health of people in Spain had been carried out recently and the results had caused surprise in some sectors. One concluded that depression affects three times as many women as men, but three times more men than women commit suicide.
This is thought to be because society defines the roles of ‘male and female’ and teaches men that they should not cry or show that they feel sad. Many channel their frustration through bad temper or keep their problems to themselves until they cannot bear them any more, and they put an end to their lives. This is one of the messages put across by the coordinator of the Foundation for National Assistance for Help for Sufferers of Depression, (ANAED), José Ramón Pagés.
“Depression can occur at any age, but most of all it affects women aged between 45 and 60 with a hormonal imbalance,” he explains. The ‘epidemic of the 21st century’ is causing problems for women who are facing the ‘empty nest syndrome’, especially when a woman finds herself living with a husband with whom she has little relationship and the children have left home, for men who take on the role of ‘man of steel’ and families who can hardly make ends meet.
For every person who commits suicide, there are ten attempts which result in “irreparable” consequences, explains José Ramón Pagés. “Attempted suicide leaves you worse off than you were and doesn’t take away the illness,” he says. What happens to a person in such an extreme situation? They can feel completely miserable, are unable to feel pleasure and have no interest in everyday activities, and these can sometimes be the trigger for a tragic ending.
Depression is the third cause of disability in the world and it could become the first by 2020, according to the World Health Organisation. “It is the only illness where the number of deaths is not falling,” warns José Ramón Pagés.
In 2012 there were 3,539 suicides (354 more than in the previous year), and many of them were caused by the economic crisis. “There have been huge advances in the fields of oncology, traffic accidents and Aids, but what progress has there been in mental health? We are still at the same level as the 1950s,” says this specialist, who is critical of the public administrations for “doing nothing” to combat depression. “They are behaving the same way as with the crisis: there is no crisis... and they will do so until the figures are unimaginable,” he says.
To make matters worse, centres for mental health all over the country are barely able to cope. “If you can’t see a psychologist for nine months, your problem isn’t being solved,” stresses this expert.
However, people rarely seem to ask for help. Why should that be the case? “When someone in Europe goes to a psychiatrist, people think they are mad.
In the USA and Latin America it is the opposite: they think people who don’t go to a psychiatrist are mad,” says José Ramón Pagés, who considers these specialists to be just as important as gynaecologists or paediatricians.
“You should always give your head an MOT,” he insists.