COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the world as we know it, and every aspect of life has been affected as a result. Mental health, for many, continues to deteriorate due to factors like isolation, loss of income, fear, uncertainty, and more. The World Health Organization reports that “the pandemic is increasing demand for mental health services” across the globe, as well as exacerbating existing mental health conditions. Examining Scandinavian mental health, read the full story.
To combat the effects and frequency of poor mental health stemming from COVID, world leaders are increasingly looking towards Scandinavia for inspiration. The region has long boasted impressive mental health services, including free mental health ambulances, which drastically reduced suicide rates. What’s more, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark virtually eliminated the mental health stigma that plagues most countries, including the U.S.
In America and elsewhere, a significant number of individuals believe that disclosing a mental illness hinders the job search process, and may cause others to think less of them. Those living with mental illness in certain countries may be unfairly labelled as irrational, untrustworthy, or even violent. Fear of public stigma and judgment, unfortunately, keeps many people from seeking treatment for a mental health condition or turning to illicit substances for symptom relief.
Conversely, in Scandinavia, mental illness is overwhelmingly looked upon as a treatable medical condition, rather than a weakness or something to be ashamed of. Let’s take a look at what Scandinavian countries do right, and consider the future of mental health services worldwide.
Mental Health Challenges Across History
In the last century, humans have gained extensive knowledge of the various mental conditions that plague humanity. We have also come a long way in terms of mental health treatment, and no longer look upon the mentally ill as “insane.” Into the early 20th century, those with serious mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar depression were typically locked in asylums. Control, rather than treatment, was the primary objective.
Interestingly, the earliest mental hospitals in Scandinavia date to the 1400s, marking Sweden as an early leader in mental health. Research indicates that King Gustav Vasa, in particular, was a champion of mental health care, ruling that various religious buildings be converted into state hospitals, and medical texts, are printed in Swedish instead of Latin. King Vasa’s reign lasted from 1523 until he died in 1560, and his legacy continues into the present day.
Generally speaking, modern healthcare providers understand more about mental illness than ever before, from particular symptoms to the prevalence of various conditions. For instance, the condition long referred to as manic depression is now called bipolar disorder, and is further divided into two main types – bipolar I and bipolar II. Frequent bouts of depression, mood swings, and manic episodes are some of the common symptoms of bipolar disorder.
The Link Between Mental Health and Happiness
For many living with bipolar disorder or any other debilitating mental health condition, happiness is often a fleeting emotion. Yet that’s only part of the story for Scandinavians, who are widely considered some of the world’s happiest people. Denmark, in particular, is known as “the happiest country in the world,” in part because of its radical and free healthcare system.
In countries where the national healthcare system is privatized, public health is often compromised in favor of profits. According to The Conversation, private health insurance is expensive and contributes to healthcare inequality. Patients who are required to pay out of pocket, or who have a high deductible, may ultimately put mental health care to the wayside due to costs.
This is especially common among people who lack universal healthcare and already have substantial amounts of medical debt. In the U.S. and similar countries that lack universal healthcare, medical bills can quickly pile up. As many citizens are forced to make difficult decisions in terms of paying off that medical debt, even sometimes turning to credit cards, seeking mental health care may seem frivolous.
Mental Health Treatment Challenges
Free mental healthcare may seem like a given to Scandinavians, however, it’s an anomaly for countries with privatized healthcare systems. Along with the high costs associated with treatment, from cognitive behavioral therapy to pharmaceutical medications, there’s also the previously discussed stigma to consider. Americans in particular may feel shame when seeking mental health care.
Yet data indicates that the bulk of U.S. citizens who have received treatment for a mental health disorder found it to be a positive experience. Bradley University reports that 82% of psychotherapy patients found it to be an effective method towards symptom relief. Further, cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to positively benefit those patients living with various conditions, including panic disorders, depression, and borderline personality disorder.
It’s no wonder that Scandinavians are so happy, considering that the citizens of Sweden, Norway and Denmark don’t have to choose between taking on mountains of debt or seeking mental health treatment. As the world continues to adapt to the changes related to COVID, including higher rates of mental illness, government leaders should thus consider emulating Scandinavia in terms of healthcare.
LATEST UPDATE (14 January, 2021):
WTTC releases Mental Health Guidelines to aid the recovery of Travel & Tourism
Examining Scandinavian Mental Health, written exclusively for Daily Scandinavian by Beau Peters. Beau is a creative professional with a lifetime of experience in service and care. As a manager, he’s learned a slew of tricks of the trade that he enjoys sharing with others who have the same passion and dedication that he brings to his work. When he is not writing, he enjoys reading and trying new things.
Feature image (on top) Simon Rae / Unsplash