“Due to the economic problems, more people are experiencing psychological difficulties,” says CM President Luc Van Gorp. In an interview with De Morgen. A study conducted by the CM Healthcare Trust showed an inequity in the risk of mental problems: people who find it difficult to make ends meet are more likely to develop psychological problems.
“Of the people with an income of 750 euros per month, more than 17 percent have anxiety disorders and 10.7 percent have depression,” says Van Gorbe. “For those with an income of more than 2,500 euros per month, this is only 7.4 and 2.5 percent, figures from Sciensano tell us.”
As a result, experts fear that higher energy prices will push more people down. “Today there is a very great fear among the poor, but now also among the middle class, that they will lose their prosperity and their well-being as a result of rising energy bills and increasing rents,” said Heidi Dejriks, general coordinator of Poverty Network.
Even more worrying, higher energy prices are in line with the Corona crisis. “Then the demand for help rose sharply,” says Quinn Lewitt, a spokesperson for the VVKP Psychological Association. This is now expected to happen again. Moreover, according to Sarah Williams, Professor of Social Inequality in Healthcare (UGent), the energy crisis is having an effect on her. “On top of that reduced flexibility, now comes the financial stress of unpaid bills,” she says. So both Lowet and Willems call CM’s concerns “highly justified.”
People who live in poverty (disadvantaged) are already more likely to develop psychological problems. “It’s always an interaction between (innate) vulnerability and environmental factors,” Lowet says. “Think of it as a balance: If a lot of stressors build up – as now with higher energy prices – then they just flip over to the other side.”
This group also finds it more difficult to find help. Complicating matters further is the energy crisis. “Because what do people who can’t make ends meet? They save themselves,” Williams says. “Health care, and certainly mental health care, is one of the first things they stop doing.”
Therefore, Van Gorbe advocates additional investments in preventative healthcare. “You avoid suffering and the health care system – which is already understaffed – is less burdensome,” he says.
He is also helped by experts. “Ideally, we should spend 10 to 12 percent of health spending on mental health,” Lewitt says. “In Belgium, we barely get to 6 to 7 percent, so it’s almost half of what we should be spending. We spend the majority of that budget on hospital beds. But very little of the budget goes to prevention.”
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