Theodoros P. Dimopoulos
Scientific Associate – Hellenic Parliament
Ph.D. Candidate, University of Thessaly
Current data reflect the exacerbated situation regarding mental health which is estimated to be related to an array of causal factors within the socioeconomic framework. OECD (2021) insightfully indicated that, for the most part, worries about the future have induced an increase in anxiety and depression since the beginning of the pandemic, without omitting to mention that it was already an urgent issue before that. Coming out from a long-lasting economic crisis, Greece is facing a collection of challenges that correspond to the pandemic, the energy crisis, and the cost-of-living crisis, which is the most severe global risk over the next two years and projected to peak in the short term as the World Economic Forum (2023) indicates. The three of them have already had a severe impact on inequalities in different sectors. For instance, according to the Hellenic Statistical Authority (2022, July 27) economic inequality (GINI coefficient) has been notably escalated from 31% in 2019 to 32.4% in 2021, while the percentage of the population being at risk of poverty and social exclusion increased from 27.4% in 2020 to 28.3% in 2021. Exercising caution on the same issue through the lens of regionality, significant diversities are being noted between regions as well. For instance, the relevant rate in the Region of Central Greece amounts to 24.2% whereas in the Region of Attica to 12.9% (Hellenic Statistical Authority, 2022, July 27, as cited in Dimopoulos, 2022, August 12).
As regards another crucial issue, that of housing, according to Eurostat (2022) the highest housing cost overburden rates have been observed in Greece in 2021, 32.4% in cities and 22% in rural areas; while 18.9% of disposable income was dedicated to housing costs in the EU in 2021, the corresponding rate in Greece was 34.2%. This is a deterrent factor that curtails the sense of independency and undermines the process of pursuing a better perspective. This is also reflected also in existing data that pertain to young people’s lifestyle: on average they leave their parental household at the age of 26.5 years in Europe while in Greece the average is 30.7 years old (Eurostat, 2022). The gap between the age of leaving for the earliest leavers (25%) and the late leavers (75%) is 13 years (European Commission, 2022).
Despite the drop in unemployment rates in terms of the whole population, a considerable and at the same time highly energetic part of the population, such as those holding a higher education degree aged 25-39, remains unemployed (17% in Greece while the EU average rate is 5.3%) as the Hellenic Authority for Higher Education (2022) points out. Furthermore, Eurostat (2022) mentions that there were 23 regions where 30% or maybe more of the labour force aged 15–29 was unemployed. Six of them are from Greece, while in 2021 approximately one fifth of EU regions reported that more than half of all those unemployed have been left out of the industry for at least 12 months, with one of the highest long-term unemployment ratios peaking in the Region of Central Greece (79%). As regards the aforesaid Region (Central Greece), in 2021 recorded a noteworthy 38.9% in unemployment of people aged 15-29 (Eurostat, 2022, as cited in Dimopoulos, 2022, August 12).
Population’s consuming ability is an issue that requires the intensification of collective efforts, too. Indicatively, OECD (n.d.) data clearly portray the aforesaid need by illustrating the country’s low ranking as regards the average wage (USD 25,744) compared to the OECD average (USD 51,607). Current socioeconomic circumstances encounter specific data reflecting on the field of healthcare policy too, such that of the share of health spending financed through out-of-pocket payments, which was 15% across the EU and 12% in Germany contrary to 33% in Greece. The aspect of inequalities in healthcare is also another task that policy-makers must exercising caution on. For instance, according to OECD (2022) one-in-six people of the lowest income quintile (17%) in Greece report that they had gone out without some medical care when they needed it in 2020, compared with just only 1% among the highest income quintiles. Therefore, the need to facilitate access to socially inclusive, economically affordable and environmentally friendly healthcare settings and services is marked as a significant priority (Venema et al., 2022).
Mental health challenges already constitute a crisis with a heavy imprint that needs to be countered proactively within the community and in the field. According to existing national data, 22.8% of Greeks report a mental health issue (News247.gr, 2023, January 19), which is akin to a component that highlights the need of enriching the state’s capacity in terms of human capital and adequate staffing. In particular, OECD (2021) mentions that in 2019, one in every ten jobs was in health or social care among OECD countries but in Greece the corresponding average rate was 5.8%. Extant data are also mapped to the reality based on the experience of a host of healthcare professionals whose expertise is linked to psychosocial challenges. For instance, according to the Hellenic Association of Social Workers (2022, November 11), the municipal authorities’ social services strive to address numerous psychosocial issues and cover an array of citizens’ needs, having at their disposal only one social worker per 40,000 inhabitants or more, one of the worst ratios in the EU.
Furthermore, there are also issues regarding the need of the state’s structural reorganisation in terms of effective integration and interconnection. To that extent, the relevant process can adopt policies and best practices already taking place in the EU: Go Team in Mechelen, Belgium; the Community Integration Team of Santa Casa da Misericordia de Lisboa, Portugal; the Family Centre Model of the regional council of Häme, Finland; Early Recovery Intervention (P.U.E.R.I.) of the National Council of Social Workers in Italy; United in Psychiatry of Esbjerg, Denmark; This is Ten Hundred (Norrtäljemodel) in Stockholm, Sweden; Evaluation of integrated care at home in Catalonia, Avedis Donabedian Research Institute in Barcelona; and Cared living Extended Home Care in Riga, Latvia are examples of progressive and pragmatic initiatives that could be taken advantage of.
To sum up, any kind of public consultation and policy-making process trying to harness a crisis such as that of mental health should influence decisively all those responsible both at a national and at a broader level. In the context of this ongoing period of multiple crises and within an environment of uncertainty and volatility, decision-makers and relevant stakeholders should seriously take into consideration that the societies that will sense the most severe blows will be the poorest and most insecure. Sustainable, resilient and prosperous societies will be those that will guarantee and safeguard citizens’ decency.
Source: oecd-forum.org | (Republished after author’s approval)