The escalating crackdown on fundamental rights and freedoms in an increasingly repressive regime of Turkey under the autocratic leadership of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan might have very well contributed to the spike in the prevalence of stress, depression and anxiety in Turkish society, a recent study done by Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has revealed.
Among the polled, 86.3 percent of respondents said they experience high level of depression, followed by 78.8 percent stating they struggle with stress and 72.1 percent reporting they tackle with anxiety. The study that is based a number of self-report questionnaires among Turks indicated that 65.1 percent participants described themselves as being unhappy with varying degrees while 34.9 percent considered themselves as being happy, again on varying levels.
That shows the rapid backslide on the rule of law, democratic rights and fundamental freedoms coupled with the worsening outlook on economy and increasing violence and terror incidents might have taken a toll on the psychological well-being of Turkish society. It also reveals the Turkish government is failing its responsibility in shoring up the feeling of happiness among Turks especially against the background of government’s blatant interventions in the individual rights and freedoms.
Considering that personal happiness is bound to, among others, individual beliefs, faiths, dreams, ideologies, sensitivities and perceptions to which no one including authorities is called upon to pass judgement, stigmatize, vilify and interfere with, Turkish government’s real or perceived interference to individual choices in Turkey may have contributed to this worsening picture.
According to the Turkey’s Health Ministry’s statistics, the number of anti-depression drug use has increased 23.2 percent from 35,4 million boxes in 2014 to 43,6 million in 2015. In the first nine months of 2016, the latest available data, this rose to 33,6 million boxes of anti-depression drugs. It was reported that one in every ten person in Turkey is using anti-depression drugs. The Health Ministry also announced on August 5, 2014 that 9,2 million Turks went to hospitals and clinics to seek a treatment on psychological problems, up from three million in 2009.
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) submitted a motion in Parliament on December 10, 2015 asking for the establishment of an investigation commission to look into rising cases of psychological disorders. The motion was not debated in Parliament yet. Similar motion was also submitted on March 1, 2015 by the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) but that motion was not taken up in the Parliament before the legislation session completed, killing the motion.
The Turkish government’s unwillingness into investigating root causes of rising cases of psychological disorders and high usage of anti-depression drugs defies common sense. It is most likely that the government does not want to get blamed for this and it rather tries to sweep the dirt under the rug. The current Islamist regime of Turkey has been constantly criticized by observers for undermining the personal or collective enjoyment of life among ethnic and social groups especially targeting the vulnerable ones in the last couple of years with relentless persecution of critical groups such the Kurdish political movement, Alevis and the the Gülen movement.
In the study which aimed to explore the prevalence of mental health problems and its relationship with happiness, a Turkish version of Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS-42) was used to measure psychological mood disorders while happiness level was assessed by using Turkish version of Subjective Happiness Scale. Alongside these two scales, a sociodemographic questionnaire was created to measure a number of sociodemographic factors. A total of 358 took part in the study with the mean age of 36.1 (standard deviation = 9.5).