Director of Technology Academic Area
3,941 people took their lives in Spain in 2020, the highest number ever recorded in history, which only corresponds to the tip of the iceberg of mental health issues in our society. Many of these people had never been to a psychological consultation, but some may have tried to do so, without success.
In Spain there are only six psychology professionals for every 100,000 inhabitants, when the European average is 18. This means that some consultations last no more than 15 minutes, a time that borders on the ridiculous when we are talking about a mental health problem.
Despite the high demand for psychological care in recent years, it was not until 2021 that a mental health strategy, which had been obsolete since 2009, was adopted
The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by 2030 the leading cause of disability will be associated with mental health. It is clear that we have a serious public health problem that is progressing without solution and, even more, without attention. Despite the increase in the demand for psychological care in recent years, it was not until 2021 that a mental health strategy was approved, which had not been renewed since 2009.
This strategy puts several issues on the table. Among them, prevention through education.
Education, as usual, can be of great help at an early age to learn how to manage complicated situations and thus limit the impact of mental problems and their carry-over into adulthood. But for this to happen, emotional education sessions must be introduced in absolutely all educational centers to enable young people to develop two key characteristics for improving mental health: empathy and resilience.
There is an urgent need to introduce emotional education sessions in all educational centers so that young people develop two key characteristics to improve mental health: empathy and resilience
The first is defined as the "ability to identify with someone and share their feelings". Numerous studies associate a lack of empathy with bullying, which causes so many mental health problems. On the other hand, resilience, defined as the "capacity of a living being to adapt to a disturbing agent or an adverse state or situation", is key to overcoming traumatic situations.
Let's make room in the school curriculum for emotional education, even sacrificing other types of teachings that will not have such a beneficial impact on students' lives.
Usually, when talking about technology in relation to mental health, it is considered a negative agent. This has been seen recently after the publication in the Wall Street Journal of the so-called "Facebook Files", where the results of internal studies of the company Meta are exposed, showing that social media networks can accentuate some mental problems.
The vast majority of network users who show that they suffer from anorexia tend to be women up to 29 years old. Of these, 60% are under 19 years old
However, just like any other tool, social networks also have their positive side and can help to compensate for the lack of mental health resources through aid campaigns aimed at users in need of emotional support. This is the case of the STOP Project (Suicide prevenTion in sOcial Platforms), led by the UPF Barcelona School of Management and in which experts in data analysis, psychology and psychiatry from seven renowned international institutions are collaborating.
STOP studies social networks by analyzing, through computational and artificial intelligence techniques, text, image, and anonymous user activity to discover common patterns among people with suicidal behavior, depression or eating disorders. For example, it has been observed that in social networks, users who show that they suffer from anorexia tend to be women up to 29 years old (60% under 19 years old) and with an interest in vegan or vegetarian diets, very rapid calorie loss and very demanding exercise routines.
The campaign coordinated by the STOP Project reached more than 660,000 people and increased calls to the so-called Hope Telephone by 60%
The information made it possible to launch a campaign last Christmas targeting anonymous users who fit profiles associated with different mental problems. In these cases, users could see advertisements with the Hope Telephone or the Suicide Prevention Telephone, a free emotional support lines that are available 24/7. The campaign ran for 24 days, reached more than 660,000 people across the state and increased the number of calls to the Hope Phone from social networks by more than 60%. This 60% included people who, most likely, had not been able to go to consultation, but who were able to find help on these telephone lines while using their social networks. This project opens up new avenues of action adapted to the 21st century to contribute to better mental health.
Inclusion of emotional education in the school curriculum and the use of technology to complement psychological care services are two crucial factors for the improvement of mental health in society. But let us not forget that perhaps the best agents of support are ourselves through active listening. Let's feel responsible for detecting when someone close to us needs to be heard and simply do that: listen. It is free and effective.