Sweden has an excellent public health system that will look after all of your physical healthcare needs. It is open to all legal residents, regardless of the length of your stay, although it can take a long time for your residency claim to be processed.However, it is also important to look after your mental health, particularly during times of stress. Moving house scores highly on the list of universal stressors used by psychologists and therapists, and moving country adds a whole extra level of confusion and intensity to an already stressful time, particularly if you do not know anyone who lives here and you have not yet learned the local language.
So how can you look after your mental health when you move to Sweden? What options are available on the public health system? Will you need to take out private medical cover to ensure that you have access to the right levels of care? Keep reading to find out.
Mental Health In Sweden: An Overview
Sweden scores extremely highly on overall global healthcare measures, so it will perhaps come as a surprise that the level of mental healthcare here is less than stellar. Like many other countries, Sweden struggles to meet the mental health needs of its population and treatment of ‘mild to moderate’ mental health issues needs to improve, according to a report from the OECD.
Around a quarter of young people in Sweden have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. Care for this subgroup has improved in recent years, following a strong focus on the issue between 2012 and 2016. Access to mental health care programmes within schools has had a positive overall effect on the number of people being diagnosed and the severity of their conditions, but there is still work that needs to be done in this area.
If you visit the doctor to discuss a physical illness in Sweden, then you can expect to be offered a high level of care and to be referred to the relevant specialist, and the majority of the fees payable will be covered by the state. However, the picture looks very different for mental illnesses, where only 15% of patients are currently receiving the treatments they require, according to the OECD report quoted above.
In addition, a lot of mental health treatment programmes, such as courses of cognitive behavioural therapy or ‘talking therapies’ such as psychoanalysis and counselling, are not covered at all by the state system, meaning that people have to pay out of pocket. This presents worrying barriers for those with mental health conditions, since often people find it difficult to work when they are suffering from a mental illness, and without being in employment they might find it impossible to pay the fees.
A 2019 study by the Public Health Agency in Sweden showed that expats suffer higher levels of mental illness than locals, and the levels increase for people who are female, unemployed, earning below a reasonable income threshold, disabled, or LGBTQIA+.
The only population in which there was no difference between locals and expats was schoolchildren, but this might be because the rate of mental illness among young people is high in any case.
The situation is not all bad, though. Recently more measures have been put in place to try to improve the level of mental health provisions across the country, with some particularly innovative options including the mental health ambulance in Stockholm, which was launched in 2015.
The ambulance service was brought into play in response to the country’s static suicide figures: over 1,500 people in Sweden die by suicide each year, and more than 15,000 attempt it. The ambulance crew consists of two mental health professionals and one paramedic, and they can provide a number of treatments on the spot to people who need them.
Help For Mental Health Conditions In Sweden
If you suffer with a mental health condition like depression or anxiety, talk to your doctor at home before you move to Sweden. Some substances are restricted in the country under the EU’s Opium Act, including certain antidepressants and some medications for ADHD. You will still be able to take restricted substances while living in Sweden, but you will need a letter from your doctor explaining what your prescription is, the generic name for it, and why you require it.
If you have been receiving regular state-subsidised therapy back home — for example, if you have been seeing a therapist on the NHS in the UK — then your doctor or therapist might be able to write you a letter explaining why you require subsidised treatment and recommending a course of action to your new doctor in Sweden.
However, you might find that you need to pay either a percentage of the therapy fees yourself, or in some cases you could be expected to pay 100% of the costs. Many people choose to pay privately for therapy, and it is easy to find a reputable therapist in Sweden since it is a regulated profession, so only those with a license can set up a practice.
The high standard for entry into the profession means that the therapist you see will probably be able to offer you a high standard of care. However, the amount of training required before someone can set up as a therapist means that there is a lower number of therapists throughout the country than you might expect to find back home. Some therapists offer online sessions for clients all around the world, so you might even be able to find a therapist from back home who you can talk to on a regular basis using a video call service such as Skype or Facetime.
Shopping around is an important part of the therapeutic process: numerous studies have shown that it is the relationship between therapist and client that makes the most difference to the outcome of the therapy. If you require urgent help for a mental health condition, you can call the Swedish health service on 1177 for advice, or visit Mind.se.
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