2nd Jun 2020

EU takes first step in tackling mental health problems

The European Commission has taken the first steps in tackling mental illnesses, which affect one in four adults in the bloc.

On Monday (17 October), the Brussels executive adopted a Green Paper on a strategy for mental health in the EU.

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The commission's move represents the first time that mental health policies are to be included in general EU policies.

Mental illness affects over 27 percent of European adults every year, and is responsible for the majority of the annual 58,000 deaths by suicide, more than the number who die from motor vehicle traffic accidents, according to the commission.

"I can think of no other disease that would remain so low profile if such a high percentage of the population were struck by it. Mental health has been swept under the carpet for too long", EU health commissioner Markos Kyprianou said while presenting the paper.

Studies have estimated that by 2020, depression will be the highest-ranking cause of disease in the developed world.

In terms of its economic impact, ill mental health costs the EU 3-4 percent of its GDP through lost productivity and additional burdens on sectors such as health, education and justice.

But there are large differences between member states when it comes to mental health.

Suicide rates range from 44 per 100,000 people in Lithuania to 3.6 in Greece, while the number of involuntary placements in mental health institutions is 40 times higher in Finland than in Portugal.

The share of spending on mental health ranges from more than 13 percent of the national health budget in Luxembourg to just 2 percent in Slovakia, the paper notes.

As part of the process, governments, NGOs, stakeholders and individual citizens may now comment on the paper and the role the EU can play in tackling mental illness.

The consultation will continue until spring, after which the Commission will use the input to draw up a proposal on a EU-wide mental health strategy, which is the next step in the process.

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