As I am studying Gestalt Psychotherapy, I wanted to have a clear picture of Malta’s mental well-being. Having worked on mental health issues in my personal life, this area is close to my heart. I have split this blog into 2 articles: Part 1 shares and reviews the findings of my journey and Part 2: Facts Behind The Story shares the data on which this is based on.
Starting The Journey
When I write stories, I start the journey by formulating my intention into a clear question: ‘What can the available credible mental health data tell us about the people of Malta?’ With this question in the bad, I started the research hoping to find a data source from NSO or Ministry of Health. It exists but it wasn't available online.
The government organises the European Health International Survey (EHIS) which collects information about Malta's mental health as part of the European information gathering. The next most credible source I found was Malta's National Health Strategy 2020 - 2030 which cites data from EHIS.
Summary of Findings
As I started going through articles, thesis and documents this is what I found the following results:
15% suffer from anxiety or depression. This could mean that 1 in every 6 people you know may have a moderate or severe mental health issue (Ministry of Health, 2019).
46% feel moderately lonely. Considering the amount of socialisation online and live, almost a full half of the Maltese population feels lonely (Clark, M., Azzopardi, A., Bonnici, J., 2019)
Males are 70% more likely to commit suicide than females where we have an average of 24 suicides per year (Bonnici, J., 2020).
Widowed and Divorced couples' numbers increase by 60% for depression and 120% for anxiety when compared with their single and patterned counterparts (Ministry of Health, 2019).
Adolescents between 11 and 15 say they feeling 30% to 50% more low and nervous than the HSBC Average (Ministry of Health, 2019).
Over 41,200 people (8% of the population) have been treated for severe mental health conditions. The main classifications by order of people impacted are Chronic mood disorders, Schizophrenia, Chronic Neurotic Disorders, Psychosis, Chronic Psychiatric Disorders, Addictions, Chronic Eating Disorders (Ministry of Health, 2019).
Numbers of people with Primary/Secondary Education increase by 200% for chronic depression and 150% for chronic anxiety when compared to Tertiary Education (Ministry of Health, 2019). Here my question is, does education make people better able to cope or does having better mental health allows people to do better in education?
Indirect Links to Mental Well-Being
During the research, I found data that could give more light into what is happening in Malta. What I mention below might not be directly related to mental health. Yet I felt that since the physical and social well-being can impact one's mental health, I felt that these are important to share.
In 2015 there were 25% of Maltese who are obese (PwC, 2017). This makes us the highest in the EU nations (Calleja, G., 2016).
30% of Cancers are linked with diet (Cocks, J., 2019).
23% of the population is at risk of material poverty and social exclusion (Eurostat, 2018) with 3% being in severe material poverty (Caruana, C., 2019).
Stress at the workplace was the highest in the EU (Said, M., 2011). Very little recent data has been done here. A thesis by Camilleri (2015) found relationships between stress and lack of satisfaction, lack of sleep, lack of good eating habits and low workplace safety.
Malta's culture ranks the 5th highest score in the world for Uncertainty Avoidance (Holfstedes Insights, 2020).
After finishing my journey I sat looking at these results. With 41,000 people receiving mental health treatment and 15% of Malta's population affected by moderate to severe mental health issues, the numbers are huge. To me this is a call for compassion and empathy as 1 in every 6 people I know may be affected.
Writing this during Covid-19, I can’t help noticing the impact uncertainty is having on people. Hofstede Insights lists Malta as a top nation whose culture abhors uncertainty. Could our need for certainty be a cause for mental health issues? Could it be impacting our stress, anxiety, relationships, safety at work and healthy eating patterns?
Towards The Future
Apart from the cost of our economy, mental health issues impact the people affected, their surrounding relationships and the social interactions of these people. Mental health affects our decision making in our relationships, work and personal lifestyles as well as our well-being and quality of life.
The National Strategy for Mental Health 2020 – 2030 has set 5 operational focus areas for our future for mental health: Well-being, Mental Health, Mental Disorders, Resilience and Recovery (Ministry of Health, 2019). These focus areas, together with the outlined vision of the strategy, provide a holistic way forward.
A Hopeful Future?
Unless we truly understand the causes, we will simply treat the symptoms without tackling the sources of these issues. Treating symptoms may be good for political flags and percentages but not for those who suffer in the long term. That is why my question and concern is: 'What will the impact of this strategy and these efforts be on those who suffer most? Will this drive help us to:
Focus on creating organisations that treat the problems only
Or will we look towards understanding the causes of mental health issues so that we can improve the quality of life of those who suffer most?
Reflecting on my personal journey it was meditation, therapy and compassion that helped me to, not only cope but to, improve my sense of safety, love and joy. It is my greatest hope and prayer that people experience this shift in their quality of life. Seeing the recent drives by NGOs and government entities to promote and act towards mental health, I am seeing more and more people empowering themselves towards a better quality of life.
Bonnici, J. (2020, April 21). Almost 90% Of All Suicides In Malta Are Men, New Figures Show. Retrieved from Lovin Malta: https://lovinmalta.com/news/almost-90-of-all-suicides-in-malta-are-men-new-figures-show/
Calleja, C. G. (2016, September). Running an international survey in a small country: challenges and opportunities. Public Health Panorama, 2(3), pp. 249-400.
Camilleri, A. (2015). The Effects of Work Stress on the Health and Wellbeing of the Individual. The University of Malta.
Caruana, C. (2019, October 17). Almost 90,000 people at risk of poverty, according to EU data. Retrieved from timesofmalta.com: https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/almost-90000-people-at-risk-of-poverty-according-to-eu-data.742761
Clark, M., Azzopardi. A. Bonnici J., (2019). The Prevalence of Loneliness in Malta. Faculty of Social Wellbeing, University of Malta.
Cocks, J. (2019, February 4). Cancer kills more than one in four in Malta: 30-35% of deaths linked to diet. Retrieved from timesofmalt.com: https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/more-than-a-fourth-of-deaths-in-malta-from-cancer.701053
Eurostat. (2018). At risk of poverty or social exclusion in Malta. Retrieved from Eurostat: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/news/themes-in-the-spotlight/poverty-day-2019
Holfstede Insights. (2020, August 21). Compare Countries. Retrieved from Holfstede Insights: https://www.hofstede-insights.com/product/compare-countries/
Ministry of Health. (2019). A Mental Health Strategy For Malta 2020 - 2030.
PwC. (2017). Weighing the Costs of Obesity in Malta.
Said, M. (2011, January 20). Maltese workers amongst highest in EU suffering from work stress. Retrieved from Malta Today#: https://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/national/8121/maltese-workers-amongst-highest-in-eu-suffering-from-work-stress#.X0AHQ9wzbtQ
Adrian Xuereb Archer