A patient entering an examination room at a health centre in Helsinki on 28 December 2022. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has published the first results of a large-scale study that suggests that the well-being of the working-age population has deteriorated noticeably in the past couple of years. (Markku Ulander – Lehtikuva)


WORKING-AGE PEOPLE in Finland are experiencing more and more psychological distress, reveals a study conducted by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

The comprehensive public health study found that a fifth of 20–64-year-olds are experiencing psychological distress, representing a noticeable increase from four years earlier – one of six percentage points to almost 19 per cent for men and seven points to 20 per cent for women.

The study also detected a steep drop in the quality of life of working-age people, with the share of people who described their quality of life as good falling by over 10 points to just under 50 per cent since 2018.

Even more alarming is that suicidal thoughts have increased among under 50-year-olds. The share of working-age people with suicidal thoughts has risen from 10 per cent to 12.5 per cent.

Annamari Lundqvist, the researcher in charge of the study at THL, said the results are alarming from the perspective of social and economic sustainability.

“There have been earlier indications of the declining well-being of working-age people, but that showing this clearly as a decline in the quality of life and increase in suicidal thoughts is indeed alarming,” she stated in an interview with YLE on Wednesday.

The cause of the development is the subject of widespread discussion but not yet definitive answers.

“I’m sure we’re seeing the after-effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Also global things such as the war-related crisis, inflation, climate change can have an impact. The build-up of crises, you could say,” analysed Lundqvist.

The share of respondents who stated that they have used health care services for mental health-related issues has also risen in the past couple of years, from 15 to 20 per cent for women and from 9 to 12 per cent for men.

Almost 62,000 20–64-year-old people from across the survey were randomly invited to participate in the survey. Fewer than half, or 46 per cent, of them responded to the survey between September 2022 and March 2023.

Many of them estimated that doctor’s appointments are not sufficiently available and that the accessibility of health care services has decreased.

The assessments of the accessibility and availability of services varied regionally. The most challenging situation, the responses suggest, is found in North Karelia, Central Uusimaa and Kainuu, where more than 30 per cent of residents viewed that they do not have access to the physician’s services the need.

“The new well-being services counties are in a tough starting position that they will have to respond to. The adverse development is likely the consequence of several factors, such as the health care backlog arising from the coronavirus pandemic, the delays in carrying out the social and health care reform and staff shortage. In Finland, less money is spent on health care than in Western Europe,” stated Anna-Mari Aalto, a senior expert at THL.

“There is no one solution to the multifaceted situation.”

Despite the regional differences, the trend is pointing down practically across Finland, Lundqvist said to YLE.

“Some well-being services counties are doing slightly better than others, but when you look at the trend you can say that the situation has become more challenging in pretty much all well-being services counties compared to 2020,” she said.

“We have to think at the national level how we can improve the well-being of working-age people. Finnish society needs a population that’s healthy and able to function.”

THL will publish more results of the survey at the start of the summer and in the autumn.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT