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Mental health needs be addressed beyond health policy, stakeholders say

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EU lawmakers, stakeholders and patient representatives called for a cross-sectoral approach and specific funding when addressing mental health at the EU level, with the Parliament wanting specific benchmarks for following the process.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, the European Commission estimated that around 84 million people in the EU were affected by mental health problems – a number that has worsened since.

Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, on the sidelines of the event marking World Mental Health Day (10 October) told Euractiv that “over the last few years, and especially after the pandemic, we saw how mental health issues have become a priority across the board for all stakeholders, for Parliament and for the member states”.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines ‘mental health’ as a state of mental well-being in which people cope well with the many stresses of life, can realise their potential, can function productively and fruitfully, and are able to contribute to their communities.

“We can no longer use the excuse that mental health is just the responsibility of the healthcare sector,” agreed Hans Kluge, director of the WHO office for Europe, during the Commission’s event on mental health.

He added that sectors like education, housing, employment, transport, arts and culture, and sports play an essential role in mental health and wellbeing, whether in preventing ill health, promoting well-being or directly influencing people.

All of this shows the need for a comprehensive approach and a broad scope when addressing mental health at the European level. The overarching approach was taken in the Commission’s communication on a comprehensive approach to mental health published on 7 June, backed by EUR1.23 billion in funding.

Kyriakides explained that the approach “looks beyond health policy, bringing in other key areas: from education and employment to digitalization and urban planning, from research and culture to environment and climate”.

With this in mind, she announced that this year the Commission will allocate EUR11 million to support member states in promoting mental health in all policies.

Need for collaboration across institutions

The Commission’s proposal aims to focus on mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention, the mental health of youth and vulnerable groups of society, well-being at work, mental health systems, breaking the stigma and a global approach.

“I think a big step has been made in terms that we have broken the silence and the stigma that has been around mental health for many, many decades”, said Kyriakides.

She also highlighted the need to work cross-sector and explained that, like with Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, the work needs to be horizontal and included in all policies.

“It needs to be part of what we design from prevention in schools to employment, from urban development to what we do with our young people, the Internet,” she added.

Jose Manuel Minones, acting Health Minister for Spain, highlighted during the event the need to collaborate among member states and with the Commission.

“Prioritising mental health is a question of political will because either we act now or we will be too late,” he added.

He explained that the Spanish presidency has as a priority to help improve mental health in the European Union. To establish synergies between countries so that the vectors of prevention, detection and treatment are common throughout Europe.

“This requires a budgetary commitment from each country to enable us to meet the challenges ahead. In the same way that action guidelines are essential to ensure a homogeneous framework for action throughout the European Union,” he added.

Ongoing work in the Parliament

In the meantime, the European Parliament is preparing its first mental health report aiming to treat this issue from a broad perspective and ensure that actions are taken at the EU level.

The European Parliament’s first report on mental health follows the Commission’s proposal but aims to set clear indicators and clear goals.

“For this, we want specific financing through Horizon Europe. We want a clear mission on mental health,” Portuguese MEP Sara Cerdas, rapporteur of the file told Euractiv.

Cerdas’ goal with the report is to deal with issues such as prevention, mental health promotion, early diagnosis, fighting stigma, accessibility to care and more. This includes asking for more direct funding channelled into mental health and clearly establishing who the most vulnerable groups are to identify risk factors and protect these groups.

European Parliament vice president from S&D, Marc Angel, told Kyriakides that in the field of mental health Commission has 705 allies in the Parliament. “We have no time to lose when addressing the mental health crisis. The stakes are high. We owe it to all those affected to make their lives better,” he added.

[Edited by Giedre Peseckyte/Nathalie Weatherald]

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