Since 2009, life anguish has grown around the world, according to a study published today in the journal
The data, collected through telephone surveys by the Gallup company, show that, if in 2009 25% of people acknowledged having had feelings of sadness, worry or stress for much of the previous day, in 2021 the figure rose to 31%
The interviews covered more than 1.5 million people from 113 countries.
The data, analyzed by Michael Daly and Lucia Macchia, from the University of Maynooth in Ireland, shows that people with lower socioeconomic status have poorer mental health.
In the last year collected in the study, there was more than a ten point difference between the richest 20% of the population and the poorest 20%.
You also see a more rapid worsening of the mental state of people who only have a basic education compared to those who achieve a high school or university degree.
During the covid 19 pandemic, a 2.5% increase was also detected in the population living with anguish.
From that peak, it fell in 2021, although the figures remained above the pre-pandemic data.
The study also indicates that the pandemic had a different impact by age.
Those over 55 years of age continued with figures that worsen year by year, but, according to the data, they did not suffer as intense a deterioration as those under that age.
In particular, those under 35, who throughout the period studied were the ones who recognized the least vital anguish, surpassed those over 55 and came closer to those between 35 and 55, who are the most distressed age group.
After the pandemic, although suffering decreased, young people, who experienced growth of four points compared to the average 2.5,
they did not return to their usual third place on the scale of suffering.
This work, like others previously published, also observed that, during the pandemic, women suffered more lasting psychological deterioration than men.
The authors state that their results are consistent with other studies that "indicate that the pandemic had an adverse psychological effect that was of small magnitude."
In addition, "this increase was brief", a result consistent with the findings that suggest that "the population adapted flexibly to the stressful circumstances of the pandemic and recovered relatively quickly from the initial harrowing shock of the period of confinement".
On the reasons for the negative trend in mental health across the planet, Daly believes that "many factors that vary by country and period may play a role."
Among other things, the researcher points to the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis, which caused "job insecurity and debt problems for many people", and to political instability in many parts of the world.
Daly also mentions the "concern about the decline of social cohesion in some nations, reflected in isolation and loneliness that can contribute to feelings of anguish."
Finally, the researcher points to the possible role of the "technological environment, with the associated increase in information, productivity demands or comparison with others" as another source of discomfort,
Carmen Rodríguez Blázquez, a researcher at the National Epidemiology Center of the Carlos III Health Institute, believes that "no one has an explanation" for the trend shown by studies such as the one published today by
“In emotional disorders and illness there are always many factors, such as the economic crisis, which always has an influence, or the greater awareness of mental health, which we have seen especially as a result of the pandemic”, she explains.
In particular, she agrees with the data reflected in this work that shows a worse situation for people with worse training and fewer resources.
"Mental disorders are closely linked to economic and social inequalities and a lack of resources, and this is seen in study after study," she sums up.
The psychologist believes that the data showing an increase in mental illness "may be the result of increased awareness of a problem, something that can be useful for people to seek help."
However, she regrets that "if we raise awareness about mental disorders, but do not increase the amount of resources to deal with the problem, that awareness can be counterproductive because it generates frustration, and that is what is happening."
Together with the increase in resources dedicated to making psychologists or psychiatrists more accessible, the data reflected in the Gallup polls show that economic and social development itself, in principle, should translate into better mental health.
However, data such as suicide figures, which are very high in highly developed countries such as Scandinavia and lower in those of southern Europe or North Africa, show the complexity of the problem and the uselessness of simple answers.
Economic advance is often accompanied by a change in the social context, which reinforces individualism.
"In Spain, family and social support protects against some mental problems, but we are becoming more and more like the Nordic countries," says Rodríguez Blázquez.
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