The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently worked to help citizens improve their mental health in North Macedonia. In North Macedonia, the insurance fully covers mental health services and psychotropic medicines. According to the Mental Health Atlas, there were 179 psychiatrists in the country as of 2020.
There were also 20 hospital-attached mental health outpatient facilities as opposed to zero “community-based/non-hospital” mental health facilities. And other mental health facilities totaled 32.
The Mental Health Atlas also reported four mental hospitals and eight psychiatric units in general hospitals. In addition, there were 376 mental health nurses in North Macedonia, with the country spending 7.3% of its total health expenditure on mental health.
The Pressures of Poverty
In 2022, the WHO stated that nearly 40% of the nation’s residents were “at risk of poverty or severe material deprivation in 2019.” COVID-19 added to preexisting barriers to health equity, causing many to experience mental health challenges.
Rising costs of basic necessities pose another threat to impoverished citizens of North Macedonia. According to UNICEF, a 25% increase in household energy/heating costs and a 29% increase in food costs could disproportionately affect poorer households with multiple children.
A 2022 UNICEF mental health workshop for social protection frontline workers provided evidence of the negative effect of poverty on mental health in North Macedonia. Workers interested in learning how to cope with stress and build resilience shared their experiences with stress caused by daily dealings with complex cases of poverty and related adversities.
Economic Effects of Global Crises
COVID-19 took a toll on mental health in North Macedonia. In 2022, WHO also added that the pandemic diminished social and financial protection systems, leading to substantial mental health challenges. Furthermore, a 2023 UNICEF report highlighted a link between the pandemic and symptoms of anxiety and depression among the country’s residents.
The report examined 11 nations, including North Macedonia, and showed a statistically significant relationship between personal exposure to the virus and anxiety/depression symptoms in adults. Around 42% of adolescent respondents also reported moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety in response to the pandemic.
The recent conflict between Russia and Ukraine has also affected nations, including North Macedonia. According to UNICEF’s 2022 Country Office Annual Report, North Macedonia’s economy, which was recovering from the blow it suffered during the pandemic, faced another setback due to the war. Unfortunately, these economic events also pose risks to mental health in North Macedonia.
Economic Threats to Mental Health
Ongoing trends suggest that economic instability threatens mental health in North Macedonia. In a 2015 review, Ben Fell and Miles Hewstone argued that poverty increases the risk of mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and drug addiction.
Instances of poverty’s harmful effect on mental health exist abroad. A 2020 article by Lee Knifton and Greig Inglis revealed that in 2018, 23% of men and 26% of women in the most impoverished areas of Scotland reported symptoms of possible psychiatric disorders, as opposed to 12% of men and 16% of women in its most well-off areas. With a heightened risk of poverty comes a threat to mental well-being.
Systemic Barriers to Quality Care
Recent reforms have focused largely on North Macedonia’s mental health system. A May 2022 WHO news release reported that from 2000 to 2008, WHO and the Ministry of Health initiated reforms that moved North Macedonia’s mental health care out of hospitals and into community mental health centers.
This migration of mental health care reflects a need to remove patients from the negative conditions of hospital-based mental health units. A 2010 BalkanInsight article revealed that conditions at the Demir Hisar psychiatric hospital in North Macedonia were dehumanizing and that hospitals like Demir Hisar were underfunded and understaffed.
WHO Takes Action
Between 2008 and 2017, the WHO’s efforts to improve the mental health situation in North Macedonia faced challenges that were due to a reduction in government support for community-based mental health services.
In 2018, the Republic of North Macedonia adopted the new National Strategy for the Promotion of Mental Health. Goals include decentralizing mental health services, decreasing the number of psychiatric hospitals and strengthening staff at community mental health centers, according to a May 2022 WHO news release.
Stojan Bajraktarov, director of the Psychiatric Clinic in Skopje, North Macedonia, explained that education, communication and cooperation are key in delivering quality mental health care at a primary care level.
Taking Inspiration from Crisis
The pandemic, while tragic, has also provided an opportunity to improve access to quality care for mental health in North Macedonia. The pandemic inspired many to push health equity higher up the political agenda, said Anne Johansen, WHO’s special representative to North Macedonia. Overall, this can have lasting positive impacts on the country and its residents.
– Noel Teter