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HEALTH| 05.10.2021

When the mind becomes jumbled 

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Mental illnesses lower life expectancy by 20 years. They are the leading cause of disability in Europe—according to data from the WHO regional office—and the third-largest health obstacle after cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Worldwide, an estimated 280 million people suffer from depression, 5% of the global population. An aging population and a scenario of greater exposure to risks such as migration, conflicts and uncertainty, among others, are causing more depression, anxiety, behavioral disorders, bipolarity, and psychosis. We are talking more about this issue because it is increasingly affecting us. At MAPFRE, we are committed to actively protecting SDG 3 (health and well-being for all). So we are delving deeply, at a critical time, into aspects regarding innovation, prevention, and treatment with articles and interviews. 

Mental health, often defined in scientific forums and articles as the significant issue forgotten for decades, encompasses nothing less than a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. By definition, it affects our thoughts, feelings and how we face life, manage stress, interact and make decisions. 

When intact, it is a state of well-being in which a person develops their capacities and works productively, contributing to a larger group. In this regard, it acts as a basis not only for individual well-being, but also for the effective functioning of the community. 

But when someone develops a mental disorder, as defined by psychiatrist Norman Sartorius, one of the experts who have fought the most in recent years against this stigma,[i] a former director of the World Health Organization (WHO)and a former president of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) and of the European Psychiatric Association (EPA), suffering and stigmatization increase. 

Hereditary (although inheritance is polygenic and multifactorial), sometimes linked to bad habits (such as the consumption of toxic substances) and addictions, triggered by stress and problems such as poverty or social exclusion, mental illnesses are, along with loneliness, the great evil of this century.

[i]Stereotypes or negative labels are assigned to these people and are difficult to get rid of, causing them to suffer from the discrimination and rejection of others.

A growing problem

According to the WHO, depression, the most common mental health disorder, affects 3.8% of the world population, including 5.0% of adults and 5.7% of people over the age of 60. In total, it is estimated to affect 280 million people and is more common in women.  

The figures are alarming, and studies predict that the number of people affected by mental illness will double in 20 years. However, global suffering and certain measures and behaviors aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic could accelerate the process.

Stigma and social exclusion

Over the centuries, losing one’s mental health has meant being excluded from society. Although a growing number of voices today are calling attention to the stigmatization and social discrimination that sufferers face, experts say there is still a long way to go. 

Elite athletes such as Michael Phelps and Simone Biles have shared their battles in this very private area, generating an outpouring of support with their calls for help.  

A public health priority

In 2001, the WHO designated mental health as one of its public health priorities, including it later within its Sustainable Development Goals (specifically in SDG 3), and introduced initiatives and projects focused on developing specific policies and services.

Some of the measures proposed to move forward are integrating mental health into primary care, developing specific services and groups, increasing investments to pursue more innovative research and treatments, and raising awareness to reduce stigmatization.

MAPFRE, as part of its commitment to health as a whole, has enhanced its services to its members with wellness programs, psychological assistance and the option of virtual appointments with specialists, among other services.