October 13, 2010

IN SPITE of our economic problems, Irish people are less likely to be sick or depressed than our European neighbours and remain among the happiest on the continent, according to a Eurostat survey on mental health.

The Irish experience the lowest levels of physical or emotional problems in the EU, according to the research. Just 4 per cent of us reported accomplishing less because of depression or anxiety and 6 per cent blamed their physical health for accomplishing less.

Some 79 per cent of Irish people reported feeling happy all or most of the preceding four weeks, second only to the Dutch. Almost 70 per cent of us felt calm and peaceful, also well above the EU average.

The Irish are also less likely to be tense, depressed or “down in the dumps” than our European neighbours.

The survey finds the most positive people are the Scandinavians but 57 per cent of Irish people said they never or rarely experience tension, well above the EU average of 44 per cent.

Irish people are among the least likely in Europe to seek help for psychological or emotional problems, and the number of us who do is dropping. Just 12 per cent did so in the past year, down 2 per cent since 2006. Six per cent said they took anti-depressants, slightly below the EU average.

One-third of Irish people felt their job was under threat, twice the level of insecurity experienced by Germans.

Irish respondents were absent from work an average of 0.9 days in the preceding four weeks, just below the EU average of 1.1 days.

One in five Irish people said they would find it difficult talking to someone with significant mental health problems.

Overall, Europeans report feeling more positive than negative, but the level of despondency has grown since the last survey was carried out in 2006. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the poor are most likely to report negative feelings, while better-off respondents tended to be more positive.

The research finds a link between physical or emotional problems and being under social and financial stress, but says those with problems are more likely to have sought help or taken anti-depressants.

One in seven Europeans said they had sought help for a psychological or emotional problem in the preceding year, mostly from their GP.

About 10 per cent of EU citizens have mental health disorders and in many states depression is the most common health problem. Suicide is a significant cause of death, with about 55,000 Europeans taking their own lives each year, of which three-quarters are men.

The mental health of an individual has a big influence on attitudes and behaviours in the workplace, Eurostat says. People with mental health problems are more likely to be absent from work and to feel undervalued in their job functions.

Employees who have sought help and who have taken anti-depressants tend to take two to three more days absent from work than the average employee. They are also more likely to be uneasy in their jobs.

Paul Cullen