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  Nr. 120 - November 2008
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A Bridge of Support

by Iris Papathanasiou, November 2008
The Mobile Unit of Psychological Health

It is hard for anyone who has visited the paradise of the Cycladic Islands during the summer season, when everything works 24 hours around the clock, to imagine the isolation of these islands during the winter months and what it means to be cut off from the mainland and all the choices one has there if in need. Until 2003, someone
in need of psychological assistance, for example, was unlikely to easily find support available locally.

According to the professionals, the boundaries of mental health can be fragile, and anyone, at any time in life, may suffer from common disorders such
as depression that can be triggered by their environment or by particular situations.
The most characteristic case on the islands is the significant difference in lifestyle between the summer and the winter months.

During the summer season, when the population increases tenfold, most inhabitants work in the tourism business to the point of exhaustion. The winter season is at the other extreme, as the islands seem suddenly isolated and abandoned and work becomes hard to find.

Psychologists report that stress and depression appear on the islands more intensely during the winter months with relapses especially at the beginning of autumn.

The Mobile Unit of Psychological Health (comprising psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and child psychiatrists) offers an invaluable service, completely free of charge, to the communities of the 24 Cycladic islands. The local authorities have come to realize the importance of this service and have supported it as much as possible in order that it continues, even though the government has been cutting back on funds for its operation.

The North East Cycladic unit has been based on Paros since 2007, with the Municipality of Paros covering the travel and accomodation expenses of the doctors to the other islands, in order to support this project.

During recent years the number of people seeking support from this unit has increased, which proves an important and essential point: that the taboos inevitably associated with mental illness, especially characteristic of small communities, are being overcome.

So it was not surprising that on 18th October the Archilochos Hall was completely full for the presentation of the results of the recent mental health research carried out in November 2007 in Paros and Antiparos. A total of 562 households participated in this study which aimed to examine the frequency of psychological disorders in the general population and the socio-demographic factors (such as age, education, employment status, etc) that might affect the appearance of these symptoms. This project was run by the Panteion University Athens and the University of Ioannina in cooperation with the poll company “Public Opinion PRVC”, the Municipality of Paros and the Scientific Association for Regional Development and Mental Health (EPAPSY). Separate research was also conducted on the students of the high schools of Paroikia and Naoussa, as part
of a general examination of 6,000 adolescents all over Greece.

The results of the study suggest that 22% of the population show signs of mental illness, according to psychiatrist Stelios Stylianidis (Scientific Director of EPAPSY and professor at Panteion University). Even though this seems like a high percentage, it does not necessarily mean that these people are ill; in most cases the symptoms are mild, restricted and possibly self-curable. They should, however, interest the primary healthcare service and the authorities to assist them in designing preventive measures, based on the indications of the kind of clinical cases that may emerge in the future. These actions could include educating the community on certain issues, training professionals and intervening in certain population groups such as parents and senior citizens. It is also important that this research is repeated over a number of years in order to monitor changes.

It is interesting that even though depression seems to mostly affect women on Paros and Antiparos (7 women to 1 man), a high percentage of men show signs of harmful alcohol consumption (though not necessarily alcoholism). Therefore it seems that the differences between the two genders balance out, as local social codes “forbid” men to talk openly about their depression or stress, while accepting their use of alcohol; unlike women, who more easily express their depression, but tend to abstain from drinking.

Professor of Psychology Foteini Tsalikoglou explained how the development of psychiatry and psychology has enabled many people to live normal lives and find happiness, recovering quickly with the necessary assistance; cases that in the past would have had to be hospitalized long-term. This illustrates why it is essential that the government treats the protection of mental health as equally important as physical health.

Unfortunately this is not the case, according to the President of the Greek Association of General Practitioners (ELEGEIA) Prodromos Merkouris: “The Ministry of Health keeps no records at all on this issue and has not promoted a separate budget for the needs of psychological health. On the contrary, the government is actually reducing funding which makes the future of these programmes uncertain.”

This public presentation on October 18th followed a two-day seminar directed to medical professionals organized by EPAPSY and ELEGEIA, with the support of the Municipality. Entitled “Family in Crisis”, it aimed to help doctors recognise clinical cases, understand symptoms and assist in confronting associated problems.

It is planned that Dr Arkas, representing the Paros Municipality, and Professor Stylianidis will present the results of the Paros and Antiparos research at a congress to be held under the auspices of the French Presidency of the EU at the Paris City Hall on 4th December. The Paros and Antiparos study will be one example among many from all around Europe that will show how a local community can be actively involved in the promotion of mental health, through its local representative – such as the municipality – by offering training for GPs, involving local media, and developing best practices for a mental health strategy for its citizens.

The Mobile Unit of Psychological Health is based in Paroikia (at Ghikas corner). Sessions (free of charge) are also available in English.

For further information or to arrange an appointment call: 22840-22011, 22840-24911 email: epapsy@otenet.gr, or see www.epapsy.gr

Research Results in PAROS & ANTIPAROS

Tiredness/ 23% 36% 32%

Preoccupation 25% 34% 31%

Over-excitement 19% 34% 29%

Depressive 14% 25% 21%

Somatic 13% 25% 21%

Sleep 9% 24% 19%

Sadness 7% 19% 15%

Obsessions 11% 15% 14%

Concentration 7% 13% 11%

Anxiety 7% 13% 11%

Preoccupation 7% 11% 10%
re Physical Health

Compulsions 5% 9% 8%

Phobias 2% 7% 5%

Panic attacks 3% 5% 4%

Unhealthy 23.86% 3.333% 13.06%
Use of Alcohol
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