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Moving to Spain could be good for your mental health, new report suggests

Brightly coloured houses in Spain
Brightly coloured houses in Spain   -   Copyright  Canva   -  
By Nichola Daunton

If you’re thinking of moving abroad this year, you might want to look at this study first - especially if you have kids.

The Mental State of the World Report is the largest study of its kind and tracks the best and worst mental health levels across 34 global countries, including five European countries where either English, French or Spanish are spoken.

So if you want to start a new life, which is the best country to move to?

By analysing five different areas of mental wellbeing, including mood and outlook, social self (how we relate to ourselves and others) and drive and motivation, the researchers have discovered some eye-opening results.

How does the report work?

Compiled by non-profit research organisation Sapiens Lab, the study gathered data from 223,000 respondents, from a range of global countries.

The researchers asked each respondent to complete a 15 minute anonymous survey and describe their wellbeing based on a sliding 200 point scale - from distressed to thriving.

Findings from each individual country were then compared in order to track how mental wellbeing differs across the globe.

While many parts of the world were not surveyed, the report includes countries from Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Continental Europe and the ’core’ Anglosphere (US, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand).

What did the researchers discover?

Unsurprisingly, one of the main findings was that global mental health declined during the pandemic. After a 8 per cent drop in 2020, mental health continued to decline in 2021, but at a slower rate of 3 per cent.

There was a strong correlation between the stringency of COVID-19 measures in particular countries and declining mental health, particularly in the 18-34 age bracket.

Live in an English speaking country? Your mental health is likely to be worse.

One of the most interesting findings is that mental wellbeing was poorest overall in English-speaking countries. Whereas Latin American and other European countries had some of the highest levels of mental wellbeing.

Sapiens Labs
A chart showing the mental wellbeing scaleSapiens Labs

Surprisingly, countries with higher GDP scores per capita actually had worse mental health than those with lower GDPs. This shows that although we are told that economic growth is a good thing, living in societies that are always chasing growth may not be good for our mental wellbeing.

Countries that had a higher focus on Individualism and Performance Indicators also had more people reporting negative mental health too.

Of the 34 countries involved in the study, the UK had the joint lowest mental health score, tying with South Africa.

Of the 34 countries involved in the study, the UK had the joint lowest mental health score, tying with South Africa.

Respondents from both countries had an average mental health score of 46 per cent, while the percentage of people who described themselves as distressed or struggling was a concerning 36 per cent.

The US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland also came in the bottom 10 countries for overall mental wellbeing.

Which countries reported the highest levels of wellbeing?

Latin American and Spanish speaking countries performed the best overall, with six Spanish speaking countries in the top ten. Of the five European countries featured, three made it into the top ten with Spain at number two, Switzerland at five and Belgium at number eight.

Inequality is likely to be a big factor here as, according to the Gini Index, inequality has increased in many western countries but has been decreasing in Latin America.

Sapiens Labs
A chart breaking down mental wellbeing by countrySapiens Labs

Venezuela came out on top overall, with an impressive average of 92 per cent on the mental health scale. While Central and West African countries also performed well, with the DRC, Nigeria, Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire all making the top twenty.

What’s the situation like for young people?

One of the report’s most shocking findings was that the mental wellbeing of young people across the world continues to plummet, with every single country surveyed showing a decline.

The researchers speculate that this may be a consequence of growing up in “an internet-dominated and inequitable world.”

Canva
A chart showing mental wellbeing according to ageCanva

By contrast, across the world, older generations have a much higher mental health score, with happiness peaking in the core Anglosphere countries at the age of 70. While 18-24 year olds in the same countries had the worst mental health of all countries surveyed, showing a real age divide, that was similar across the European countries surveyed too.