Cristian González. SUR
'Mental health needs more resources; the head isn't a leg, when it fails, everything fails'

'Mental health needs more resources; the head isn't a leg, when it fails, everything fails'

Cristian González, President of Afesol ·

The Costa del Sol mental health association Afesol celebrates 25 years with a new president and new plans



Friday, 21 June 2024, 11:22

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Cristian González is 34 and has just been appointed president of the Costa del Sol association of relatives and people with mental illness, Afesol. He takes over one of the most active organisations in the area, although he is by no means a newcomer. He has been taking on positions of responsibility for years and has been linked to this particular association practically all his life: his mother was one of the founders of Afesol, which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary.

Can you talk about mental health today without mentioning young people?

-Of course not. In recent years the profile of mental health patients has changed a lot. People are much younger. That's why resources are very necessary, it is important to work with them from their first mental health crisis. If a young person is not well cared-for, they cannot fully recover and the illness can become chronic. On the other hand, if you give them social care and health support in time, they can have a normal life. This is very important because these people are the future of our society.

Does the Costa del Sol have the necessary resources to tackle this problem?

According to the statistics, the number one cause of disability in 2030 will be mental health. The projection is that, by that year, one in four people will have this kind of problem. Not to mention that today the leading cause of unnatural deaths in Spain is suicide. Within healthcare, mental health has always been the poor sister as far as resources are concerned, and Malaga in particular is clearly not equal to other provinces. We can say that the Costa del Sol is the most neglected area in terms of mental health resources. There is a lack of units and a lack of professionals. When a leg breaks, work is done to mend the leg, but when the head fails, everything fails.

Has the pandemic been a turning point in mental health?

Yes, it has. We are a country of the sun, of the street, and this means that in many cases problems got hidden or were just overlooked. Covid changed that and now is when those cases are coming to light and when the need for resources is beginning to be assessed at a public level, but we are very behind. Also, in the case of young people, there are other circumstances: we have overprotected them, we have not set limits for them and when they grow up, problems arise. We have to educate them in readiness for them becoming adults in the future. To give an example: we are in a constant fight against the abuse of women and yet we give children mobile phones without any controls, so they freely consume porn and they are normalising sexual relationships that are based on violence towards women. Everything has to be explained to children, at the right time, but it has to be explained.

You have just taken over at Afesol, although you have been vice-president for some time.

Now my idea is to give continuity to the projects that we are developing from the association itself. We are building a day centre in Mijas with a budget of 1.2 million euros, thanks to the support of the authorities and private donations. And we have another important project in Estepona, where two years ago the town hall there gave us an old nursery school and, with funding from the provincial authority, we have refurbished it. There we want to provide training for young people.

How does Afesol act when it detects a case?

-Cases can come directly to the association or are referred from social and health services. We work in a network. In Afesol we have many programmes, we work in the prison, work orientation programmes, day centres on the Costa del Sol, warden-controlled flats, programmes for abused women and a special jobs centre, from which we have allocated jobs in public facilities such as the Torreón de La Cala and the museum of miniatures in Mijas, as well as the management of several parking areas in different municipalities. Our next step is training, especially focused on employment for young people and that is what we want to do in Estepona.

At what age are cases coming in?

-The youngest person we are treating is 11 years old. He is a boy who has self-harmed.

How have these 25 years of history been for Afesol?

The association was born in Mijas because of the need to respond to the need for mental health resources. Little by little we began to provide services and today we look after 2,000 families a year.

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