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14th Apr 2024

EU Commission wants better focus on mental health care

  • The EU Commission said mental health problems already impacted around 84 million people before the Covid-19 pandemic — with an economic cost of about €600bn a year, or four percent of the bloc's GDP (Photo: Damir Samatkulov)
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The EU Commission said on Wednesday (6 June) it would set aside €1.23bn from the EU budget for mental health initiatives across the 27-member bloc.

"We need to break down stigma and discrimination so that those in need can reach out and receive the support they need," health commissioner Stella Kyriakides, said, as the EU executive presented its mental health initiatives.

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"It is ok not to be ok, and it is our duty to ensure that everyone asking for help has access to it," she added.

The commission said mental health problems already impacted around 84 million people before the Covid-19 pandemic with an economic cost of about €600bn a year, or four percent of the bloc's GDP.

The situation has worsened since the pandemic with the war in Ukraine, climate change anxiety, and the rising cost of living due to soaring inflation.

The pandemic has placed additional pressures on mental health, especially among young people and those with pre-existing mental health conditions, the commission acknowledged.

Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas called it a "silent epidemic", adding the situation is worsening.

"One in six people in the EU face mental health problems, loneliness affects around one-quarter of the population, and suicide is the second leading cause of deaths of young Europeans behind road accidents," he said.

The commission wants to focus on adequate prevention, access to high-quality and affordable mental healthcare and treatment, and reintegration into society after recovery.

Schinas warned against expecting quick fixes from the EU. "There is no happiness button to push, and certainly it is not in Brussels," he said, adding the commission's initiative is the beginning of putting mental health on par with physical health.

The EU can only provide a framework as mental health and health are mainly in member state competence.

The commission plans to increase protection for children, including the impact of social media, run campaigns for mental health in the workplace, launch an initiative on European depression and suicide prevention.

It also wants to create a European Code for Mental Health, and strengthen research on brain health.

The commission, for instance, wants to allocate €10m to support the promotion of mental health in communities focusing on vulnerable groups, including children and young people and migrant and refugee populations.

The executive also plans to dedicate €6m to support the development and implementation of depression and suicide prevention policies in member states.

The commission also wants to address burnout at the workplace as around half of European workers consider stress to be common in their workplace and it contributes to around half of all lost working days.

"This is not acceptable, going to work should not make you ill," Kyriakides said, adding that the EU will promote awareness-raising and work with companies to tackle the issue.

MEP Maria Walsh, who was the negotiator of the European Parliament's initiative report on mental health and digital work which had called for a mental health strategy, said the commission should go further.

"In order to tackle mental health in an efficient way, we need cross-sectional and integrated policies that should be supplemented by national action plans," she said.

"While the exchange of best practices between member states and with stakeholders is welcomed, the commission must ensure that it reaches citizens and communities beyond the Brussels bubble of EU policymakers," Walsh added, saying there should be a report on the EU countries' capacity to deal with mental health issues.

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