Dr. Matt Muijen, Director of Mental Health for WHO Europe, joked about how the Icelanders’ state of mind had changed in light of the economic crisis in his opening speech at the Horatio: European Festival of Psychiatric Nursing in Malta, November 5 to 9.
“He talked about health in various countries and […] he mocked Icelanders by saying that Iceland had been the happiest nation in the world until recently. Now they were the unhappiest,” an Icelandic attendee of the conference, Sylvía Ingibergsdóttir, told Morgunbladid.
“The he laughed and the worst part was that the entire conference laughed with him,” Ingibergsdóttir added. “Everyone got the joke immediately and it was a strange experience to feel that people were laughing at us everywhere.” The conference was attended by 350 psychiatric nurses from 35 different countries.
Ingibergsdóttir said that the aforementioned joke had not been the only joke made at the expense of Icelanders during the conference. “For example, we met a Norwegian nurse and when we told her that we came from Iceland she laughed and said: ‘Oh yes, the poor people’.”
“It was not supposed to be a joke,” Muijen told Morgunbladid. “With my words I wanted to point out that we have taken happiness for granted for a long time but the situation can change like the Iceland example shows.”
Muijen said that a “silly map” of how happiness is distributed around the world is probably what made the conference attendees laugh. He said he had pointed at Iceland while mentioning the country.
“I was making a very serious point and the laughing was caused by the map. I don’t think anyone was laughing at Iceland. I said that the map was pointless and that everything had changed,” Muijen explained.
“I actually added that I didn’t think this was especially funny. It is terrible if people believe that I think the situation in Iceland is funny and I’m truly sorry if that’s how some people perceived what I said,” Muijen continued.
According to Ingibergsdóttir, conference attendees had no understanding of the situation. “People from the other Nordic countries seemed to look towards how the businesspeople had behaved and know of some reactions from Icelandic authorities.”
“But they did not realize at all what kinds of a tragedies are taking place here and how it touches every family in Iceland in some way,” Ingibergsdóttir continued. “The perception was somehow that an entire nation had lost its reputation because of what has happened in the economy.”
Iceland usually scores high on the happy planet indices, sharing the top seat with Australia in a 2006 study. Denmark was ranked the happiest European nation in a similar study undertaken last year.
Muijen said he had often thought about it in the last few weeks how the economic situation is influencing people’s mental health because many things were changing in the Western countries at the moment.
“It is also related to the term ‘Schadenfreude,’ that is, that we are sometimes pleased about the misfortunes of others,” Muijen added. “It would be interesting to know what the rest of Europe thinks about Iceland now.”
“However, I believe that those who are laughing at you now should think twice because we have yet to see who will laugh in the end. Many will discover that soon their situation will not be much different from yours,” Mujien concluded.