Italian Perspective on Mental Health Illness and Treatment

In my previous blog I mentioned how voyages help us gain “new eyes” and today I want to share how exploring Florence and Florentines` lifestyle helped me better understand their perspective on mental health, their approach towards its treatment and the outcomes of UN`s Good Health and Well-Being SDG.

I will start by noting that “mental illness” or “malattia mentale” is not part of Italians` vocabulary; they will never address mental health issues as mental diseases and that is the first distinction between the Italian and the American perspective. When mental health issues are being discussed in Italy, they don’t necessarily relate to a medical condition, but more to a general state of well-being. When looking at Italians` lifestyle, they tend not to move around a lot; therefore, most people in Italy live in the same city all their lives and see the same primary care physician for long periods of time, therefore developing better relationships with them. Because of that reason and the universal health care system, Italians tend to see their doctors a lot more often and most of the time the visits are more conversationalists rather than diagnostic.

Another aspect of Italian lifestyle is the fact that it is likely to find many generations sharing a household and people living with their parents until maybe the age of 30. That is probably the main reason why the treatment of mental illnesses in Italy depends a lot on the family`s cooperation and the support from the local community in general. From the several visits we had in different low threshold anti-addiction facilities, clubhouses, daily-care, and semi-residential mental health care facilities in Tuscany, I noted how much they depended on volunteers and the families` cooperation. Almost all therapies involved some family member and the more the family was involved the better results were seen in the patient. On the other hand, living with the parents until the age of 30 doesn’t encourage individuals to learn how to be independent, find a job and learn how to become functional in the society without the help of the family. That is most likely the reason why in Italy a very small number of individuals with mental health issues will seek employment and try to earn a living by themselves. Therefore, integration to the society and fighting the stigma that surrounds mental diseases are the two main areas that Italy is constantly working to improve.

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