It is widely recognised that mental health is a human right essential to the wellbeing and social development of all European Union citizens. It is also an important resource in enabling the EU to become a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy by 2020.
However, mental health problems remain highly prevalent in Europe and constitute a major burden for our economies and societies as a whole. According to the world health organisation (WHO), mental health disorders account for almost 20 per cent of the burden of disease in the WHO European region and more than 10 per cent of the EU population suffer from mental health problems during any given year.
Although many EU countries have proposed policies addressing the needs of people with mental health problems, there are still many gaps in actually implementing these policies.
As a former psychotherapist, I know that much more needs to and can be done to tackle this public health challenge at EU level. The efforts that are being made in the framework of the EU joint action on mental health and wellbeing, which will come to an end in January 2016, constitute a step in the right direction.
I sincerely hope that this joint action will deliver concrete results to foster the promotion of mental health and wellbeing, the prevention of mental disorders and the improvement of care and social inclusion of people with mental health problems throughout Europe.
MEPs also have a responsibility to act. This is the reason why I am very happy to announce that the work of the European parliament interest group on mental health, wellbeing and brain disorders will continue in the new parliament.
"Commissioner Andriukaitis called for 'a new boost for health in Europe'. I share his belief but I maintain that there is no health without mental health" - Nessa Childers
Myself and my fellow co-chairs Jean Lambert of the Greens/EFA group, Marian Harkin of ALDE and Cristian Bușoi of the EPP group are committed to bringing about positive change - both for those affected by mental health problems as well as their families.
Launched five years ago with the support of the global alliance of mental illness advocacy networks-Europe (GAMIAN Europe), the interest group was among the most active in the previous parliament. Its mission is to advocate the development of sound EU policies which contribute to prevention of mental health problems and ensure good services, care and empowerment for those affected by mental health problems.
On 19 November, I will, together with the other co-chairs, have the pleasure of welcoming European stakeholders to our first meeting in the new parliament, which will focus on the very important topic of mental health and social integration through employment and community care.
Two recent studies will be presented and discussed at the event. First, a patient survey carried out by GAMIAN Europe on mental health and employment. Second, the mental health integration index, researched by The Economist intelligence unit which ranks 30 European countries (the 28 EU member states plus Norway and Switzerland) in terms of their effective integration of people with mental illness.
I am convinced that our meeting will generate valuable input for the work of the joint action, in which the social inclusion of people with mental disorders in Europe plays a central role. It could also feed into the EU strategic framework on health and safety at work 2014-2020, as proposed by the European commission in a communication earlier this year.
In his hearing before the European parliament a few weeks ago, the new commissioner for health and food safety Vytenis Andriukaitis called for "a new boost for health in Europe". I share his belief but I maintain that there is no health without mental health.
This is the reason why we need policies that strengthen the links between mental health, public health and other policy areas.
Our interest group provides the right platform to exchange views and initiate policy action in this regard. Our first meeting of this new parliamentary term will certainly not be the last; together with my fellow co-chairs, I am committed to play my part in making sure that mental health and well-being are placed at the core of EU action in health.
The meeting of parliament's interest group on mental health, wellbeing and brain disorders on 'mental health and societal integration - work and community' will be held on 19 November from 12.30 to 15.00 in the European Parliament, Paul-Henri Spaak Building, room B5001. For more information, contact Elaine Kennedy.