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The Mental Health of Argentinians

by Miguel Enrique Espeche

(originally published in La Nacción. translation: Lisa Garrigues)

It will probably seem politically incorrect to say that the mental health of Argentines is better now than it was before, during less critical economic times. If the mental health of a population is measured by the capacity for conscience, the ability to draw on psychological resources, the possibility of giving meaning to difficulties in life, and the vocation of finding and employing transcendental values to deal with the catastrophes that seem to put an end to everything, today we are more sane than before the fall of the first world illusions of a significant part of the population.

The mental health of a people cannot be measured by numeric parameters. It´s also difficult to frame it within concepts of mere "well being", since we know that not all pleasure or absence of pain means health, nor is suffering always a sign of pathology. Economic wealth is not equal to mental health, nor is material poverty an indication of pathology. To believe otherwise woud just be another of the many distortions of an "economicism" that has become in these times a religion.

It's well known that in the face of a traumatic situation, psychological health is not only possible, it is more likely that it will come forth with unexpected energy, as the human capacity to potentiate the best (as well as the worst) is triggered.

It's been a long time since we've had the kind of emotional and intellectual explosion which is occuring now in this country. Suffering, in some cases unutterable and insurrectionary, has awakened psychic energy that before lay dormant beneath the hypnosis of payment plans and easy credit that, along with the banalization of life, were promoted as our consciousness slept on its straw bed of sacred individualism.

Now that the idealism of monetary utopias has died, only the people are left. Appearances to the contrary, not everybody is collapsing psychologically along with their trapped savings, their shrinking salaries, or the violent change of habits produced by the equally violent economy that we are living through. As a result, and I take this as a sign of health, the healing actions that are occurring--the exercize of citizenship, the healthy self-criticism, the creation of psychological and community resources to alleviate the pain and frustration that would be unbearable in solitude, are attitudes that are now every day occurrences. These actions and attitudes don't have to wait for some utopian time in the future--they are already occurring.

That workers unite and turn factories that have been abandoned by their owners into cooperatives, or that the residents of different neighborhoods in Buenos Aires organize to do community food shopping are some examples of attitudes(infinitely multiplied) that are not limited to an issue of pragmatism but also speak of a psychological potential that is different from what appears, at first glace, to be a purely negative response to crisis.

To point this out is not the same as choosing to look in only one direction, or to see the world through rose colored glasses, but is a response to the perception of millions of healthy and generous acts that enable social living, even in the midst of crisis.

Times of Shipwreck

Psychological and mental health are created, not bought. In this sense, looking at what is happening with the barter clubs, with the alliances of neighborhood assistance, the movement towards a politics with a new meaning and the innumerable situations in which not only complaints and desperation, but also creativity, solidarity and courage come to light, enable us to say: We Argentines are gaining in mental health, even as we live through these painful times of shipwreck.

There are times when desperation is a luxury for those who have not yet reached their limit. Beyond this limit, psychological and spiritual elements appear which begin to create a different reality. The dictionary says that salud (health) also means ¨salvation¨. The economic and political disease of Argentina which is so visible does not impede her health or her salvation.

Without messiahs or messianisms, humbly stitching together the new potential which comes forth from pain that teaches and from the rediscovery of solidarity as a resource which had been confiscated, it is important to realize that a powerful and healthy reality exists within the current tragedy, a reality that silently marks time within us.

Every day, sometimes without even consciously realizing it, millions of people encounter the real dimensions of their worth, , and wake to this new reality, transcending their weaknesses and hopelessness.


(Miguel Enrique Espeche is a psychologist in Buenos Aires.)


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