What Denmark Can Teach Us about Mental Health: A Sigmund team member reports

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Posted Wednesday, Mar. 21, 2018

When you’re in the field that we’re in, travel isn’t just for fun: It’s a chance to learn how mental health and addiction are addressed in places different from our own. I recently had the good fortune to take a trip to Denmark. It was a beautiful country, full of history and culture. And of course, while I was there, I had to ask around about Denmark’s approach to mental health and addiction treatment. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I hadn’t! I was surprised to find more differences than similarities when it came to the health of their population versus ours in the United States.  

Danish People Get More Physical Activity

“Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark,” says Hamlet in his famous play. Well, maybe that was the case for the melancholy Dane, but that certainly wasn’t the experience I had. In fact, Denmark—especially Copenhagen—was surprisingly clean, with much of its population using bicycles as their primary mode of transportation. 

The people I met were very proud of the fact that Copenhagen is regularly listed as the number one cycling city, with 62% of its population using a bike to commute to and from work

This integration of exercise with everyday life absolutely impacts the mental health of a population. We all know exercise helps keep depression, addiction, and other health problems at bay, but no one seems to value this as much as Denmark, a country which has invested heavily in bike-friendly infrastructure. 

Denmark Has Lower Poverty Rates

Poverty is terrible for a number of reasons, but in the US especially, we know that addiction and poor mental health are often linked to homelessness and poverty. 2012 data show that the poverty rate in Denmark was 12.5% lower in Denmark that in the United States.

Around 15% of America’s homeless population has a mental health condition, but interestingly, that number is larger in Denmark. This may be because those with mental health issues have a more difficult time applying for and obtaining Denmark’s famously thorough social health programs. Even so, the homeless population in Denmark to begin with is only around .02%, an enviable number by any standards. 

Everyone in Denmark Has Health Insurance

Ah yes, Denmark, looped with Norway and Sweden so often in the great debate about universal healthcare. Danish people pay for health insurance in the form of higher taxes, which ensures every citizen is covered and has access to care. Whatever side of the debate you’re on, you can’t deny that a fully insured population is a significantly healthier one.