On 7 June 2023, the European Commission unveiled its plan for a comprehensive approach to mental health in Europe. Mental Health Europe (MHE) closely followed the development of the initiative, through meetings with Commissioners and their cabinets, a response to the public consultation and coordination with partners and stakeholders.
MHE’s main recommendation has been, for a long time, to develop a European Mental Health Strategy, with a clear timeline, adequate budget, objectives, as well as indicators to monitor progress. This message has been echoed by civil society, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament. Considering the limited time that the European Commission had to develop this initiative, expecting the publication of a comprehensive European Strategy would have fallen short of reality and risked producing an unambitious result. Still, all those who have been hoping for a mental health strategy may have been disappointed by the absence of any mention or any indication of plans to develop one in the Commission’s communication.
We shall nevertheless see this as a first, important move in Europe. Until now, the EU lacked a dedicated action plan for mental health, despite the evident and urgent need for one. This proposal is therefore timely and essential, demonstrating a commitment to addressing this pressing issue and indicating a path to better mental health for all.
Our call for a mental health in all policies approach has been heard. The Communication explicitly deals with the broader socio-economic and environmental determinants that influence mental health such as digitalisation and the environment among others. It recognises the significance of addressing inequalities and discrimination through intersectionality and tailored support, particularly for people in vulnerable situations (children and young people, women, older people, migrants, LGBTQ+, people experiencing homelessness, Roma communities, people in rural areas).
Furthermore, the EU’s commitment to human rights and the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is reiterated in the initiative. Although concrete actions are mainly linked to those already outlined in the European Disability Strategy, the Communication approaches mental health holistically, with no separation between the well-being of all and the obligation to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities, including people with psychosocial disabilities. MHE has always been adamant in its efforts to have mental health seen in its entirety, as a continuum from good mental health to psychosocial disability. This perspective recognises that individuals can transition along this continuum at any point during their life course.
When it comes to investigating mental health and its protection or improvement, the Communication refers to the need to strengthen biomedical research and efforts in this area, and we are left with the feeling that more is needed to move away from a pre-conception of mental health as something isolated within the individual. We firmly believe that it is crucial to invest in implementing structural and systemic changes that can effectively support the mental health of everyone. Additionally, there should be a focus on understanding what are the factors that contribute to mental health recovery, shifting away from narrow and limited approaches that have received substantial funding for years but alone have yielded minimal progress in terms of prevention and recovery.
Claudia Marinetti (MHE Director) says: “MHE welcomes the initiative’s whole-of-society vision for mental health, addressing determinants like employment, environment, and digitalisation. Progress has been made in breaking silos, but the burden must shift from individuals to structural and systemic changes. Investments should prioritise socio-economic factors and paths to recovery that go beyond individual healthy lifestyles and biomedical research. MHE sees the Communication as a vital step towards a European Mental Health Strategy, expanding beyond existing initiatives.”
Overall, MHE considers the Communication on a comprehensive approach to mental health as an essential move to lay the foundation for the development of a European Mental Health Strategy in the future. As Vice-President Schinas rightly stated, this is merely the start of a journey. We embrace this perspective, recognising that it is a good first step in the right direction. Although the path ahead may be long, we must persevere and remain committed to this important endeavour.
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MHE attended the Press Conference and you may read the Twitter thread for further details.