Ask the average person what the happiest country in the world is and the response will likely be somewhere in Scandinavia. It’s become common knowledge that Denmark, Sweden and Norway routinely rank highest on lists of the world’s happiest nations. There are many theories behind the region's overall positivity, but socialist, transparent governments, and the benefits and equality they promote are among the most frequently cited reasons.
Scandinavia is, of course, one of the darkest and coldest regions on earth. It has always seemed suspicious that anyone living in those conditions could be even remotely happy. Any of the annual happiness lists should be regarded with suspicion anyway, considering the emotion itself is impossible to accurately measure.
A new infographic created via Dadaviz and based on an OECD report suggests the moods of Scandinavian nations may be more closely linked to medicine than anything else. The chart depicts the relative amounts of antidepressant consumption across several different European nations. Iceland — not technically in Scandinavia but nearby — leads with 101 daily doses per 1,000 people. Denmark, Sweden and Finland are all close behind, with Portugal the only outlier. Norway ranks ninth.
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The report notes that the prevalence of antidepressants in Europe is a growing trend. “In all European countries for which data is available, the consumption of antidepressants has increased a lot over the decade, by over 80% on average across EU member states,” it reads. According to the report, 30 percent of Icelandic women over the age of 65 had an antidepressant prescription in 2008.
It may seem paradoxical that the world’s happiest nations also take the most antidepressants. It would also be reasonable to conclude that their sense of happiness is derived from the drugs. In reality, it’s more likely that the availability of prescription antidepressants is yet another byproduct of Scandinavian-style government and culture. Universal health care means all citizens have access to mental health treatment. As the Guardian notes, Denmark records all mental health treatment in the Danish Psychiatric Research Register, giving scientists a wealth of data to work with. That data estimates that 38 percent of Danish women and 32% percent of Danish men will receive mental health treatment at some point during their lives.
Taboos and stigmas about mental health still exist in Scandinavian nations, but they’re far ahead than much of the world in that regard. Norway launched Tips — its mental health destigmatization campaign — in 1997. The campaign helped the country reduce its DUP (duration of untreated psychosis) for schizophrenic individuals to six months. By comparison, the average world DUP is two years. Awareness and knowledge make a big difference.
Although Scandinavian countries have better access to mental health treatment than most nations, they may no longer be considered the world’s happiest. In the latest Gallup and Healthways Global report, Central America overtook Scandinavia as the world’s happiest region. Panama came in at number one, followed by Costa Rica and then Denmark. Sweden ranks below Austria, Brazil, Uruguay and El Salvador. There’s even a relatively new book called The Almost Nearly Perfect People that debunks the myth of “the Scandinavian Utopia,” claiming that Danes and Swedes aren’t as happy as the rest of the world might expect.
In the United States, by some estimates the 17th happiest country in the world, mental health treatment is slowly progressing. On Sunday, after accepting her Academy Award for "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1", filmmaker Dana Perry said that we should be talking about suicide “out loud.” Graham Moore, the writer of "The Imitation Game," used his time on stage to talk about his own struggles with depression and suicide. For better or worse, the Oscars are a major platform for celebrities to influence public thought. That’s why every winner seemed to have a cause or social campaign this year. It’s almost ridiculous that mental health treatment is still a cause in 2015, but at least the suggestion to talk about it "out loud" is being mentioned out loud. They may take the most antidepressants and they may no longer be the world's happiest, but at least Scandinavian nations are doing much more than talking when it comes to mental health treatment.