Although mental health is not a core competency of the European Union, as in many things, it is one area where a lot can be achieved through collaboration.
Decisions taken by the EU in the area of social policy, migration and disability policy can have a huge impact on the lives of people with mental ill health.
As a member of the employment and social affairs committee and of Mental Health Europe’s coalition for mental health and wellbeing in the European Parliament, it’s a priority for me that more action is taken to ensure mental health outcomes are fully taken into consideration in the policymaking process.
Modern life happens at a frantic pace. Young people often face enormous pressure to perform well in exams and deal with huge personal and emotional upheaval that comes with life changes such as moving away to study at university.
Since the financial crash, more and more people are under financial stress, which can have a domino e¬ffect on mental health and emotional wellbeing. The financial crisis in Ireland has been linked to more than 10,000 suicides.
The conversation around mental health has certainly opened up in the public sphere. Prince Harry and Prince William have both spoken out recently on the impact of the death of their mother had on their mental health as adolescents.
Many celebrities have started to discuss their own struggles, beginning to slowly remove some of the stigma associated with a mental health condition and making it more and more acceptable to reach out for help when it is needed. Removing stigma is only one element of normalising mental healthcare.
To that end, policymaking and legislation must take into account the potential e¬ffect laws can have on citizen’s lives, for example in policies on workplace inclusion, in supports provided to asylum seekers and, as Europe grows older, to ensure mental health and wellbeing is included in policies around ageing.
The Parliament’s coalition for mental health and wellbeing advocates a psychosocial approach to mental health, which instead of defining mental ill health as a ‘disease’ or ‘illness’ caused by biological factors, looks to a person’s life and social environment, treating these factors as important in understanding wellbeing and mental ill health. It appreciates the lived experience of people who have experienced mental distress and recognises them as experts in their own lives.
There are many ways this approach can be taken into account, for example with the Pillar of Social Rights, a Europe-wide initiative that can contribute to preventing mental ill health, promote the wellbeing of millions of people in Europe, and protect people living with mental health problems. Political will is needed on all sides to implement this to its fullest potential.
As a negotiator on the standard of reception conditions for asylum seekers arriving to Europe, which went through the employment and social a¬ffairs committee, it was a priority for me to ensure the inclusion of mental health and mental healthcare as a basic human right upon arrival.
A Doctors without Borders report of July 2017 highlighted some shocking mental health statistics for refugees. For example, 80 per cent of the mental health assessments they carried out met the severity level to be taken into care.
The European Parliament can take additional steps to prioritise mental health. The last concrete action taken on mental health in the Parliament was in 2008, nearly 10 years ago, on the European pact for mental health.
This has been replaced by the European framework for action on mental health and wellbeing and the re-launched EU compass for action on mental health and wellbeing. This is a comprehensive document that was the result of over 10 years of EU cooperation, so it is disappointing that there has been no concrete follow-up in the European Parliament. This should be addressed as a priority.
Other actions to ensure mental health remains top of the legislative agenda could include a European Year of mental health, the appointment of a policy coordinator at EU level and for the employment and social a¬ airs committee, support for work life balance and employment policies.
We all need to mind our mental health. Thankfully recognition of this is increasing. But we must continue to work together to ensure that stigmas around mental health continue to be reduced. Most importantly, we as MEPs must ensure that we continue to push for mental health awareness at an EU level and continue to highlight the importance of mental health in all policies.