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mental health mondays :: where even the depressed ones are happy

this past week saw the publication of the annual world happiness report, a look at nations around the world and how people in each of them feel about their lot in life. i started following this a few years ago, and this year it occurred to me that it would be fun to look at how the happy places compared to the crazy places. i mean, what if those countries aren't really all that happy, but just have an extremely high rate of psychotic/ delusional disorders?

so, i set to work putting together a comparison. as it happens, that's a bit trickier than it sounds, because information on any kind of disability is more difficult to come by than you might think. and no type of disability is more controversial than a mental illness, which means that there are even more complications around definitions, seeking treatment, prognoses, record-keeping... it's hard to tell how reliable anything you're looking at is. [not that there aren't some good sources.]

and what sources there are tell an interesting story; many countries that have high rates of depression, for instance, are "happy countries". the happy finns are more depressed than most europeans. the netherlands have one of the most depressed populations in the developed world, but also one of the happiest.  [i've singled out depression, because it's a disorder that fluctuates by country. rates of conditions like schizophrenia are pretty consistent.]

that is not to say that depressed people make for happy countries. the world's worst conflict zones are unhappy and disproportionately depressed. poland is unhappy, especially by european standards, but not depressed. the fact is that "happiness" is ephemeral. the report gives a definition that's measurable, but not all-encompassing. still, their careful methodology gives us something to work from. and it does give some interesting clues.

first and most obvious: money does, to some extent, buy happiness. even though the wealthiest country, the united states, languishes in the drop zone of the top twenty, there's no arguing that wealthier countries are happier. whiteness helps at least as much, possibly more.

but one of the things that jumps out is that the happiest countries all have robust public healthcare systems. the strength of the social safety net in general seems to correlate directly with happiness. that includes education. finland has less money than its neighbours, but that doesn't appear to matter. now, social support is taken as one of the sources of happiness for the purposes of the report, but what's obvious is that, in places where the government isn't taking on the burden of providing social support, the support isn't happening.

it's just a theory, but i think that one of the things that helps is the high ratio of doctors to patients in combination with the accessibility that a public system affords. those who seek treatment and are able to get it in a timely manner are happier, even as they deal with depression.

happy countries do a particularly good job of taking care of their children. mental illness among children is a sad reality, but it gets worse when kids are exposed to trauma or stress at a young age. like, for instance, the stress of not having enough to eat.

there are many, many things that can affect how happy we feel, but it's hard not to draw the conclusion that caring for each other, including vulnerable groups like children and the mentally ill, seems to make a difference. we can recover from mental illness, but in order to be healthy, we need to create systems that can help us be happy.

p.s. :: i know that finland did not have vikings. they are a totally different people. but the viking countries do make up the rest of the top four. so happy viking is still an appropriate image.

p.p.s. :: it's wedenesday, not monday. you're not crazy, at least not in that way. 

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