What is that thing that when you have it you don’t think about it, but when you don’t have it, it is all that you want? The answer is something that is too often taken for granted – Health. When your stomach starts hurting, or you fall down the stairs and break your hip, all you want is for the pain to stop. When you overthink and feel sad and lonely, or when you are depressed, all you want is for the pain to stop. We all want to be healthy, in body and in mind, but it is not as easy as it should be.
A Healthy Body…
Most countries in Europe have a public health care system with doctors, nurses and many other healthcare professionals who are all there to help you feel better. Bodies are meant to deteriorate with time and they are not perfect: they break, they squeeze, they itch. And we feel it all. We feel time pushing us down, we feel our legs fatigue when we walk for hours, we feel our necks hurting when we sleep in uncomfortable positions. Our bodies need for us to take care of them. We need to give them food so they have the energy to climb mountains, we need to give them rest so they can recharge while waiting for their next adventure. We need doctors to help us when we do not have the abilities or the knowledge to stop the pain. The lucky thing: public health is free in most European countries. So, when something bad and unexpected happens to your body there is someone ready to help you. Isn’t that great?
…and a Healthy Mind?
Health entails much more than just physical well-being, it also includes a healthy mind. Here, the situation becomes a tad more complicated because there has always been stigma surrounding mental health. If you feel depressed or sad and have fears you can’t face, or if you feel broken inside and you think you need help to stop the pain, others might start thinking of you as a crazy person. Only weirdos and sick people go to therapy. If you have anxiety or panic attacks then you are not normal. There is something wrong with you. Yes, there is, and that is why you need professional help. If I broke my leg I wouldn’t fix it by myself, I would go to the hospital, listen to what doctors say, and do as I’m told. If you have an eating disorder, you might try to keep it to yourself in the belief that there is nothing wrong with it and that you can manage alone. But you can’t. Sometimes we simply do not have the ability to stop the pain we feel. Especially when that pain is in our mind we need to stop thinking that we can face it alone. Therapists like psychologists and psychiatrists exist for a reason; if we could fix ourselves on our own we would not need them, but we do. This is established, and yet, it still seems like mental illnesses are something we should be ashamed of, something we should hide. We certainly wouldn’t hide our broken arm, so why should we hide our broken mind? Why not seek for the help we need to stop the pain?
Money Can Buy Happiness
Four out of one hundred people in Europe were diagnosed with depression in 2019, and 56% of them did not receive any treatment at all. The main difference between physical and mental health can be observed in the fact that there is no such thing as a public mental health care system. Therapy sessions are not included in the general public health service and, when they are, the wait is too long, sometimes even up to six months. If I broke my leg there is no way I would have to wait in the emergency room for six months, but if I suffer from a mental disorder it’s okay that I am left waiting for that long? This makes no sense whatsoever. It’s healthy and liberating to have someone competent to talk to on a regular basis about how we feel and our life experiences. It makes us feel better about ourselves, and see things from a different perspective. We are a constant work in progress, and we need to have access to these resources in order to be able to work on ourselves. There are general practitioners so why not have a general psychologist? It is necessary to treat mental health in a more serious and practical way. Mental healthcare has to be accessible to everyone.
The Paradox Of Accessibility
Mental health care, however, is not yet accessible to everyone equally. The main goal nowadays is to provide everyone with access to healthcare professionals. When we talk about accessibility we need to take into consideration three main factors: physical accessibility, patients’ need to be aware of opening hours and locations of facilities that treat mental health illnesses; financial affordability, equal access to mental healthcare for everyone; and acceptability, society pushes people away from therapy because of the stigma built around it. Only when all three of these conditions are met will we be able to consider mental health care to be accessible. Otherwise, the more serious the mental problem gets the more expensive it will be to cure, and the more stigma there will be around it, so people with more serious mental illnesses will be less likely to seek help. A lot of work still needs to be done, but some countries in Europe are already gradually working towards a better society. Luxemburg has incorporated mental well-being into the educational system. They challenge young people to find what makes them unique, rather than having them conform to the group. They actively work towards destigmatizing mental illnesses and creating happier citizens. Some regions in Italy have recently introduced general psychologists available to the public, just like general practitioners are. Times are changing and, hopefully soon, mental health care will be fully accessible to everyone.
Cover: Arthur Brognoli
Edited by: Hana Maurer