Mental ill health affects more than one in six people across the European Union, and has an estimated cost of over €600bn – or more than four percent of EU GDP. Mental ill health can affect people of any age and in a variety of forms – such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia - and comes with costs and consequences that impact individuals, families and carers, health and social systems, society and the economy.
Social and economic inequality and exclusion are both a cause and a consequence of mental ill health: poor mental health is consistently associated with unemployment, less education, low income or standard of living, poor physical health, adverse life events, poor quality of life and stigma. Given the above, mental health should be considered as important as physical health.
However, the current EU level approach - addressing mental health as part of the overall chronic disease agenda – is not enough to appropriately and effectively address the urgent and crucial need for better mental health across the board. This is why the MEP Alliance for Mental Health calls on the European Commission to respond favourably and swiftly to the invitation to propose a comprehensive EU Mental Health Strategy, as put forward by the EPSCO Council Conclusions on the Economy of Well-being, adopted on 24 October 2019.
The COVID-19 crisis, which is severely impacting levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness across the EU and the world, also underlines the urgency of appropriate attention for mental health. A future Mental Health Strategy should be comprehensive and address mental health in all its aspects, i.e. the prevention of mental ill health and mental health promotion, treatment and care; it should also cover all relevant policy sectors beyond health, including social, employment, finance, education and human rights policies. We are, of course, aware of the Commission’s limited remit in the field of mental health.
However, the EU can pay attention to the impact of all its policies and initiatives on mental health and vice versa. It can also mainstream mental health into wider policy development and provide financial support to relevant initiatives and projects. Furthermore, it can support awareness raising and help reduce stigma, for instance by means of a dedicated European Year for Good Mental Health. It can also encourage investment in mental health competences of professionals in the fields of social protection, education, finance, research and human rights.
Finally, it can support data collection and research as well as help collect and disseminate good practice. The above could be the building blocks of an overarching EU Mental Health Strategy, which should also call for national action programmes – similar to what is already happening in the areas of rare disease and cancer.
Preventing mental ill health and promoting good mental health will have a huge and positive impact – both in terms of individual well-being (of those affected as well as their loved ones) as well as in terms of the labour market, social cohesion, economic growth and development. During last October’s Parliamentary Hearings, the MEP Alliance for Mental Health took note of then Health Commissioner-designate Stella Kyriakides’ remarks regarding her willingness to do her utmost to put mental health back on the EU policy agenda.
We therefore urge the Commission to take action now, working with relevant stakeholders - for example, representative organisations of patients, carers and healthcare professionals, academia - to ensure comprehensive, appropriate and relevant action.