Serbia is located on the Balkan peninsula, which served for centuries as a vulnerable crossroads between the East and the West. At the beginning of the 1990s, some of the republics of the former Yugoslavia, including Serbia, were involved in disastrous civil conflicts. In 2006 Serbia became a sovereign republic. At the 2002 census, its population was 7 498 000.
The country has been exposed to many severe stressors, such as civil war in neighbouring countries, United Nations economic sanctions, which lasted for 3.5 years, and 11 weeks of NATO bombing in 1999. As a consequence, Serbia has experienced the destruction of infrastructure, large numbers of refugees and internally displaced people (currently there are half a million of them in Serbia), social instability, economic difficulties and deterioration of its healthcare system. In addition, a serious problem is the brain drain, since around 300 000 people, mostly young intellectuals, have left the country in recent years (Lecic Tosevski & Draganic Gajic, 2005).
After 2000, the country underwent economic liberalisation, and experienced relatively fast economic growth: gross domestic product per capita rose from US$1.160 in 2000 to US$6.782 in 2008, according to the International Monetary Fund (2008). The country is now passing through social transition and harmonisation with the European Union (EU). At present, the main problems are the high unemployment rate (18.8% in 2008 and currently rising due to the economic crisis) and the large trade deficit (US$11 billion). The major source of finance for public health is the national Health Insurance Fund, to which is allocated 6.1% of gross domestic product.
The events outlined above caused a steady rise in mental and behavioural disorders. The prevalence of mental disorders increased by 13.5% between 1999 and 2002 and they now represent the second largest public health problem, after cardiovascular disease. The incidence rates of stress-related disorders, depression, psychosomatic illnesses, substance misuse and suicide are still high, as are rates of delinquency and violence among young people (Lecic Tosevski et al, 2007). Furthermore, the burnout syndrome is pronounced in many physicians, who have shared adversities with their patients and experienced secondary traumatisation (Lecic Tosevski et al, 2006).