‘Sweden must improve mental care’: report

A new OECD report has concluded that Sweden does not do enough to help people who are mentally ill.

"There is a large gap between the care given to those who are seriously sick, and those who suffer from milder problems such as depression or anxiety," Emily Hewlett, from OECD's health division, said in a statement.

"It's clear that the latter receive less care then they should. In that regard Sweden needs to do more."

Only 15 percent of patients suffering from mental illness receive care from a specialist, the report said. It also confirmed Hewlett's statement that those with moderate mental issues often slip through the cracks.

"Unfortunately, mild and moderate disorders are not a priority area in Sweden's mental health strategy," it stated.

Social insurance minister Ulf Kristersson has asked OECD to examine mental illness relating to the workplace. He said he was not surprised by the issues presented in the new report.

"It's reasonable criticism and corresponds with my own analysis," Kristersson told newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

"We are not adequately equipped when it comes to availability to care, and we frequently prioritize wrongly within primary care."

The report also noted that mortality rates for people with schizophrenia in Sweden had increased by 11 percent since 2006, and the rate had gone up for bipolar Swedes by 21 percent. That's three times the rate in neighbouring Denmark.

"It is possible that it is because Sweden is much better at gathering data," Hewlett said. "But no matter what the cause, it's so startling that one must take a closer look and continue to improve care."

About 23 percent of young Swedes between ages 15 and 24 have a mental disorder, the report revealed, leaving Sweden in the median for cases of mental illness.

About 29 percent of young Norwegians suffer a mental disorder, just slightly more than the rate for the US. The lowest rate was in Austria, where 15 percent had a mental disorder. 

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How Sweden plans to digitalize healthcare

The Swedish government is investing in digitalization of its 1177 Healthcare Guide with the aim of improving accessibility.

How Sweden plans to digitalize healthcare
Today it's possible to find advice about health problems and treatment on the 1177 website. Photo: Claudio Bresciani / TT

The government on Thursday announced the decision to grant 33.5 million kronor to the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL) to develop the 1177 Healthcare Guide (Vårdguiden), a website where people can find out information about different healthcare issues. 

“We hope that this will benefit all patients in the country,” Minister for Health and Social Affairs Lena Hallengren told reporters at a press conference.

She said that Swedish healthcare needed to become more accessible and that more digital options will be introduced to the 1177 Healthcare Guide, including for example the possibility to communicate via video calls.

Another aspect of the plan is the introduction of digital booking, and the possibility for patients to keep track of their referrals online.

Healthcare in Sweden is organized at a regional level and in some areas it is already possible to carry out an online doctor's visit, either via a chat function or a video call.

But the investment would be used to “weave together different functions”, the spokesperson for SKL's healthcare department said. 

It will remain possible to contact 1177 by phone as well, something which would be particularly important for groups which are less likely to turn to digital solutions, Hallengren said.

READ ALSO: What to do if you need a sick day in Sweden


healthcare – (en) sjukvård

accessible – tillgänglig

online doctor's visit – (ett) nätläkarbesök

patient – (en) patient

doctor – (en) läkare

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