Mental health in Cyprus needs to be prioritised, civil servants’ union Pasydy said on Monday, calling on stakeholders to work towards finding solutions for patients having to deal with mental struggles.

Pasydy’s message falls on World Mental Health Day, an international day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma celebrated worldwide on October 10.

It added that the number of people experiencing mental health problems in Cyprus has increased dramatically over the last three years, resulting in the deterioration of the Athalassa psychiatric hospital, where the occupancy rate exceeds 140 per cent.

“Our message this year aims to make mental health and wellbeing a priority, so that we can ensure a more hopeful tomorrow for our society,” Pasydy said.

“We also want to stress the importance of providing protection and respect for people suffering mental health issues, while underlining their inalienable right to equal quality health care.”

Nurses’ union Pasyno also called on the state to upgrade the facilities at Athalassa hospital, calling the general picture regarding mental health on the island “a third-world situation”.

“Now it is the time to challenge the public and raise awareness on mental health. It is also time for the government to wake up and intervene where it is urgent and necessary,” Pasyno said.

The union said we are living in difficult times, which has had an impact on people’s mental health, with first the Covid-19 pandemic and then the war in Ukraine disrupting people’s lives.

“Health workers have been hit the hardest, being on the front line and constantly fatigued, with serious implications for their mental health. More and more people are suffering and we are called on to support them.”

The union called the upgrade of Athalassa hospital “an absolute priority” and urged the state do assign more staff at the facility.

“We are working in a hospital that instead of helping patients, it depresses them and aggravates their problems,” the union said.

“We call on people with decision-making power to reflect on mental illness, knowing that anyone can face a mental illness at any stage of his or her life.”

But Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela said mental health care is just as important as physical health care.

“According to data released by the World Health Organization (WHO), even before the Covid-19 pandemic one of out eight people worldwide was dealing with some kind of mental disorder,” Hadjipantela said.

“This notion alone is enough to realise just how important is to preserve our mental wellbeing and to seek help when necessary.”

Hadjipantela added that global instability, uncertainty, economic problems, and violent conflict over the past year “demonstrate the vital need to strengthen our mental health services.”

“The need for universal, easy and immediate access to quality mental health services must be a priority,” he said.

“We must work collectively to combat the stigma and eradicate the discrimination faced by people in need of mental health care.”