Five years of broken dreams

photo: Jose Ignacio Díaz Carvajal / LEAH CHANNAS

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IT IS VISIBLE EVERYWHERE IN SPAIN: the tired eyes and drawn faces of another day without a job, another day without the means to provide for children at home, another day without a roof over their heads. The economic crisis has plagued the country for the past five years and has become more than just the subject of staggering economic dilemmas: it is now a source behind the overwhelming consequences of mental health.

A 1 PERCENT INCREASE in national unemployment rates creates a 0.8 percent rise in the rate of suicide in Europe, according to Glenis Willcott, the co-chair of the Health Working Group of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety at the European Parliament. With Spain’s unemployment rate being a horrendous 26.9 percent as of May 2013, the country is facing serious mental health concerns.

THE CRISIS’S NEGATIVE EFFECTS on mental health come as no surprise to José Ignacio Díaz Carvajal. The psychotherapist has seen the effects of the crisis etched across the faces of his patients as they come into his office on Seville’s Ximénez de Enciso Street time after time, struggling to find the most important thing amidst all the chaos: hope.

“IN THE CURRENT ECONOMIC SITUATION, there is a hopelessness that I see because people cannot find solutions to their problems. They do not have jobs, they do not have houses, they have to live with their parents and there are no possibilities in the near future to find another job, which creates problems with their marriages, problems with their partners and problems with their children. These are enormous situations now, serious situations, especially when a child is not able to have anything to eat,” Ignacio Díaz says, his small eyeglasses magnifying his serious expression. He talks with his hands too— waving them back and forth to emphasize certain points as he sits in a navy and tan striped reclining chair in the corner of his office.

THIS PSYCHIATRIST AND PSYCHOLOGIST has seen it all. His patients come in with a variety of mental health concerns, like those battling with phobias, obsessions, and hysteria. He has witnessed a lot of depression—a problem he believes will continue to grow at vast rates as long as the crisis continues to affect people. “These people have a degree of depression that is not clinical depression, but it seems that way because they have more serious situations now because of the crisis,” Ignacio says.

SO WHAT DOES HE DO FOR PEOPLE who come into his office? “A lot of what I do is analysis, as I am a psychoanalyst, but I also include techniques that are not psychoanalysis. I give advice to my patients. Sometimes advice is better for those who need the extra push in order to change their lives,” he says.

THE TECHNIQUES HE USES vary from patient to patient, as some of the problems seen are hereditary while others are defense mechanisms, byproducts of a traumatic experience, such as the current crisis.

LOLA MARCHENA, however, is one of the lucky ones who have not been significantly affected by the crisis, that she witnesses every day. She has a job that she loves at a social court where she processes cases of worker layoffs and business closures. She says that she has no big stresses in her life that could be seriously affected by the crisis, such as children. She is content with her life except for one thing: her sleep disorder, which is a hereditary mental health problem she shares with her mother that has affected her for many years.

“ACTUALLY, I SLEPT POORLY BEFORE THE CRISIS, so I’m certain it is a problem that is not a result of the crisis. The crisis is something that does not produce relatively as much stress because I do not have children and I do not have strong economic responsibilities, so it influences me but it is not a motive of stress,” says Lola, sitting at a table at La Marañuela bar in an all-black business suit with her hair pulled back into a bun. She appears confident and professional, a woman most wouldn’t perceive to be struggling with a neurological disorder. But Lola is not going to let her sleeping problem control her life and says that she has improved a lot since she first received treatment at a private hospital. One treatment that has helped is the use of melatonin, a hormone that plays a role in the human sleep-wake cycle.

“ONE OF MY TREATMENTS is a well-known cognitive solution, melatonin, and this indicates to my body when it is night and when the day is done,” says Lola, who will go back to the hospital for a review in January on her progress.

THOUGH LOLA’S SLEEP DISORDER is affecting her actual dreams, she refuses to let it affect the dreams she has for her life. And right now, she is very satisfied with the life she is living. “I have a job that I like a lot. I have prepared for it, and in Spain it is difficult to have a job that you prepare for. It is a skilled job that has an acceptable level of responsibility, and I really like it,” she says, a confident smile spreading across her face.

LOLA’S POSITIVE OUTLOOK despite the challenges she has endured due to her inability to sleep is the exact attitude Ignacio recommends for those dealing with mental health disorders. Lola is not looking towards the future longingly; she remains right here in the present and realizes that she loves what she is doing with her life.

“IT IS IMPORTANT to live in the present,” the psychoterapist says. “Many people are obsessed with the things they cannot change in the past or focus on finding a new job in the future, when really they need to live in the present. I tell people to enjoy what they have and to accept what they have, and this helps to simplify their reality and helps them suffer less with the things they cannot change. People need to enjoy what they have.”