The human brain is an incredibly complex organ, acting as the control centre of our body, in charge of even the smallest function within our bodies.
Brain conditions, neurological and mental alike, are non-communicable diseases that emerge throughout the life course and affect all individuals. These conditions impose a high burden on all affected and represent a major medical, technological and societal challenge.
The figures are bleak: an estimated 179 million Europeans live with brain conditionsi; 10% of children and adolescents experience a mental disorder; at least one in three people of all ages will have a brain disorder in their lifetimeii. Brain conditions are the leading cause of Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) and the second leading cause of death globallyiii.
Despite this alarming burden, brain disorders still lack the awareness and recognition needed for the EU to strive to build and maintain healthy and prosperous lives for all.
Brain health to foster sustainable development
The brain allows people to thrive, live in health and in happiness, power labour markets and economies, and build for future generations. Brain health is essential for health, wellbeing, productivity and creativity across the entire life. A healthy brain is the ultimate prerequisite for mental health, individuals’ quality of life, well-being and sustainable societies.
Promoting brain health can reduce the prevalence and burden of neurological conditions and create positive social and economic impacts, all of which contribute to greater well-being and help advance society, irrespective of the presence or absence of disorders.
The time is ripe
Optimising brain health for all is paramount in ensuring human and mental health and well-being globally. The WHO’s intersectoral global action plan on epilepsy and other neurological disorders 2022–2031, the European Commission EU non-communicable diseases (NCD) initiative - ‘’Healthier Together’’ and mental health initiative, resolution, and many more, all strive to improve disease prevention, diagnosis, care, recovery, and participation of people living with brain conditions, neurological and mental alike disorders across the life-course, while reducing associated mortality, morbidity and disability. They aim at identifying and implementing effective policies and actions to reduce the burden of major NCDs and improve citizens’ health and well-being.
The added value of action
Understanding how the brain works, how brain conditions progress, finding treatments and cures and improving brain health is a long-term endeavour. Fostering brain research and innovation holds the promise of dramatically reshaping healthcare delivery. This is why a European Partnership on Brain Health, anticipated for 2025/2026 under Horizon Europe, is more important than ever to further coordinate and structure the area of brain health research in Europeiv.
Given the complexity of the brain, a wide range of research techniques, based on human, artificial, digital and, predominantly, animal models – which remain essential for progress in this domain – and bottom-up initiatives like the European Research Council, must be supported.
Reversing the growing burden and, ultimately, improving the quality of life of people living – or set to live – with brain conditions can only be achieved by prioritisation on EU and global policy agendas.
Paving the way for brain health as an EU policy priority
The next European Parliament and Commission must include brain health in all policies. Tackling misconceptions, stigma, discrimination; addressing prevention, diagnosis, access to care; looking at determinants that affect brain health at all stages of life; supporting brain research and social policies must underpin our action during our next mandate. Let’s not ignore the challenge and let’s deliver on our citizens’ urgent needs.
ii. The European Academy of Neurology Brain Health Strategy: One brain, one life, one approach, Basetti C.L.A. et al., Eur J Neurol. 2022;00:1–8, DOI: 10.1111/ene.15391
iii. Intersectoral global action plan on epilepsy and other neurological disorders 2022–2031. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2023. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO
In partnership with
This article was produced in partnership with the European Brain Council. You can learn more from the European Brain Council on X/Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Spotify.