In a country where the counsellor figure is yet to exist, where the orders connected with mental health eclectically and bear an elitist seal among themselves, but also where status seems to be more important than the patient’s’ health, it has become difficult to assertively deal with this subject.
All the relevance of the delicate and serious problems that haunts the community with some sort of mental disease, seem to be pushed away from politics and professional groups in a country, small both in size and mentality. Moreover much was already said about this Portuguese characteristic of looking only to “one´s garden” alienating themselves from the greater good, respect or common interest, no matter the area (greater writers took this state of being as a central question in masterworks of Portuguese literature), reality maintains itself. And in reality mental health, for being at the present moment a very little discussed subject both in media and society, it is still taboo and stigmatised.
Statistical data that are revealed to us about mental diseases in Portugal, is still scarce and unreliable, controlled by small groups that dominate this area of health. These same groups of professionals however, defend themselves by granting efficiency and general care, for the fear of losing their “status” is what in fact matters the most.
Mental health is a no- subject not only in the newspapers and magazines’ pages, but also in televisions and radio. However, if by any reason an interview or report show up, they’re always the same professionals to be heard, so that democratisation or reality always stands properly guarded, that is occult.
Portuguese National Health Service does not take care of additions. It solves the issue by delivering these patients to psychologists who know nothing about this specific disease (though claiming otherwise) and the general public who has absolutely no idea of what to do when hosting an alcoholic, a drug, internet, gambling or sex addict. The disease is unknown, even in hospitals.
The most common mental diseases in our century (I would like to mention here, for example, depressions of all kinds, various syndromes, addictions, bipolarity, borderline, undervalued emotional pathologies), are yet talked about on the sly or under the usual “psst”, for nothing of relevant was yet done in Portugal so they can be treated or regarded as health statuses just like the physical ones.
Although it is known that the suicide rate has increased (we cannot speak about numbers, since they are not credible enough to me) and, despite the fact that mental health is still carving lives, what I consider to be most important is the public judgement that is being made to thousands of patients that either are not aware of their disease, or are not understood and helped in a professional way as well.
Fear and ignorance still keep the Portuguese in a wild state of enlightenment, helped by pseudo-elites’ connivance of almost all the professionals of the area.
Surely Portugal suffers from a scary unemployment rate. And all the professionals (whether in the health sector or any other) are poorly paid for their labour. Thus, this fact makes each and every one to hold on to what they still have, to promise to take care of what they do not really know and having the fear of losing a patient. But while all this conjecture still exists and the institutions and private practice professionals keep closing on each others, mental health will go on the way it is: closed, stigmatised, ignored and far from being talked and discussed about by the general public in an open and healthy way. We are still in the age of “psst”.
Ana Pinto-Coelho is an addiction counsellor who has gained her degree from the University of Oxford. She is committed to advancing her profession in Portugal. Currently, she runs a private practice in Lisbon, Portugal and her commitment is to help individuals, and their families, who are struggling with addiction. She believes that counselling is both an effective and safe means to self-understanding, and ultimately recovery. For this reason, she has called her clinic Safe Place. You can follow her on Twitter @AnaPintoCoelho1