The Malta Independent 30 September 2023, Saturday
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TMIS Editorial: The erosion of our quality of life

Sunday, 28 May 2023, 09:00 Last update: about 5 months ago

European Mental Health Week comes to an end today and, unless something extraordinary happens this Sunday, the government has been totally absent and silent about it.

Maybe it is too busy dealing with the fallout of the hospitals’ deal, three months after the landmark judgment annulled the agreement that had been reached to transfer three public hospitals to the private sector. Maybe it is still reeling from the publication of the National Audit Office report that added more misery on the Labour administration.

Come to think of it, one wonders how much of the €456m that the NAO said were spent by the government on the hospitals’ deal, between 2016 and 2021, could have been utilised on mental health issues. (And we still don’t know the exact amount paid in 2022). We could have easily had a new hospital for mental health services by now, and moved away from the Mount Carmel complex which is no longer suitable for today’s modern needs. Some of this money could have also been used to upgrade the services that are offered in the community.

We have been hearing politicians say for years that having a mental health hospital as part of the Mater Dei facility – similar to what we have for cancer patients in their own particular wing – would help pass the message that mental health issues are being treated with the same respect as physical conditions, and without segregation. We have not seen this materialise.

It appears that the government does not even want to acknowledge that, given the frantic lifestyle we are living and the oppression that has come with it has led to an exponential growth in mental health issues. It’s afraid that speaking about mental issues may dent the impression that the government wants to give that all is well and good in this country of ours.

The government certainly does not want to be reminded that, according to a survey carried out last year, a whopping 64% of the population say that they are worried – the highest in Europe, and the fourth highest in the world. And half of the people interviewed – the second highest in Europe – also said that they experienced stress in the days leading up to the study. We’re also the angriest people in Europe too, another symptom that reflects our mental state. Conversely, we are second from bottom when it comes to experiencing joy, according to the same survey.

Prime Minister Robert Abela believes that the Maltese, the whole lot of them, are “serene”. Maybe he is living in a bubble and does not realise that poverty levels are rising, and more and more people have to find other ways how to increase their income to make ends meet. Maybe the government thinks that by handing out a tax refund cheque once a year people are happy.

But the situation is not as Labour portrays it to be. And money is not everything, either.

In an interview carried by this newspaper last Sunday, Commissioner for Mental Health Denis Vella Baldacchino said that the mental well-being in the country is being “eroded” by too many buildings, cars, pollution and lack of greenery.

The kind of life we are living, exacerbated by a never-ending construction chaos and endless hours in traffic, is not helping our collective and individual mental state. The number of people on medication for mental health issues is on the rise. And earning enough money is not enough to give mental contentedness, if this means being away from the family and not having time to at least de-stress, let alone relax.

We have had two suicides per month in the last decade, statistics that were also confirmed by Health Minister Chris Fearne in reply to a parliamentary question last Wednesday. With the World Health Organisation estimating that there are 20 suicide attempts for every suicide, it would mean that there are 40 suicide attempts in Malta every month.

When we write about these matters or when we publish such information we run the risk of being labelled “negative” by the government, which prefers to give a rosier picture and make it appear as if we are living in some kind of paradise.

But hiding them will not make the problems go away.

Hiding them brings back the stigma on mental health that we painstakingly fought to eliminate.

Hiding them goes completely against the idea that people should speak up and seek assistance if they encounter some form of mental issue in whatever sphere of life they are part of.

So when one hears the Prime Minister say that the government will “bolster its efforts further to strengthen quality of life”, as he did last Friday, it is difficult to believe him.

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