Study: The most common mental health problems are depression and anxiety disorders

28.06.2022 | 12:33

Mental health problems are widespread in the Estonian population. One in five (20%) Estonians is at risk of anxiety disorders and more than a quarter (28%) are at risk of depression, according to a nationally representative, population-based mental health study conducted by the Estonian National Institute for Health Development and the University of Tartu in 2020-2022. Young adults are at significantly higher risk of developing mental health problems.
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According to the study, almost a quarter of adults had at least one diagnosis of mental disorder in 2016–2021, the most common of which were depression (12.4%) and anxiety disorders (9.8%). Compared to the pre-pandemic period, the risk of depression and anxiety disorders has increased.

Adolescents and young adults, individuals with lower levels of education and lower incomes, and the unemployed are more vulnerable to mental health problems. The risk of depression is higher in women, individuals with a strong genetic predisposition and people engaging in health risk behaviours. At the same time, adults living with families with children have fewer mental health problems than people living alone.

During the coronavirus crisis, socio-economic vulnerability and lack of social support were risk factors for mental health. "During the corona-virus crisis, the biggest stressor for people was the fear of COVID-19 infection and the consequences of the illness. Stress and its negative consequences were alleviated by emotional coping skills and positive health behaviours, such as adequate sleep time and physical activity,” explained Kirsti Akkermann, one of the authors of the study, associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Tartu.

In 2016-2021, 13% of the adult population used the services of a psychiatrist, a psychologist or psychotherapist. The mental health services were more widely used by women (14%) and 18–24-year-olds (26%),

as well as people with lower levels of education and lower incomes. People with very low income used significantly less mental health services funded by the Estonian Health Insurance Fund. 

The vast majority of respondents considered it necessary to improve the availability of mental health services in crisis situations, although the personal need for services was little perceived even during the emergency situation. When the need for help arose, more than 2/3 of the respondents preferred to manage on their own instead of seeking help.

"The main obstacles to seeking help were the restrictions of the health care system, such as excessive queues, restrictions on scheduled treatment, the cost of services, but also a lack of faith in the benefits of the services, and uncertainty about where to turn," said Kenn Konstabel, a senior researcher at the Institute for Health Development. "National databases are likely to underestimate and self-reported questionnaires to overestimate the existence of problems. It is therefore sensible to combine self-reported and registry-based indicators to accurately assess the extent of a population's mental health problems."

The aim of the mental health survey of the Estonian population was to obtain a comprehensive overview of the mental health situation of the population during COVID-19 period, in order to assess, among other things, people's need for help. According to the Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo, one of the most important changes in the last two years has been that we have started to pay more attention not only to our physical but also to our mental health. "The physical and mental health go hand in hand, and therefore it is important to continue to reduce the stigma of mental health problems and to work to ensure that everyone who needs such help finds it," said Minister Signe Riisalo.

The survey was carried out among 20,000 Estonians from the age of 15 and was conducted in three waves to monitor changes in mental health indicators in 2021-2022. The results of the survey were compared with data from national databases from both the COVID-19 period and the pre-crisis period.

The Estonian National Mental Health Study was funded by the Estonian Research Agency through the European Regional Development Fund's RITA program 1 "Support for Strategic R&D Activities", which aims to find solutions to socio-economic problems in Estonian society.

The results of the population's mental health survey will be presented today, June 28, at 11 a.m. at a press conference in the joint building of the ministries. The broadcast can be watched online on the Ministry of Social Affairs' Youtube channel:

Eva Lehtla

Media Adviser (health policy)