Ahead of the next European Disability Rights Strategy for 2021-2030 developed by the European Commission, Mental Health Europe (MHE) submitted key recommendations on the EU’s role in addressing the situations of persons with psychosocial disabilities to ensure they can enjoy their rights on an equal basis with others.
As a member of the European Disability Forum (EDF), MHE endorses the recommendations made by EDF. It supports the notion that the EU has the ability to be a leading driver to the full realisation of the UN CRPD, aligning with EU treaties and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In order to be ambitious yet realistic, the strategy should be comprehensive and include clear objectives, timelines, resource allocation, a governance and accountability mechanism, and should be equipped with sufficient budgeting. Mental Health Europe commends the consultative steps undertaken by the European Commission, in particular through the engagement with the High-Level Group on Disability. Full participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organisations, including persons with psychosocial disabilities, needs to be ensured throughout the implementation up to the evaluation of the strategy.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic exposes all human beings to a shared vulnerability when their most valued universal asset, health, is at stake. The pandemic, however, disproportionately hits people who are already in a vulnerable situation, including people with psychosocial disabilities. In addition to common risks and challenges, people with mental illhealth face a disruption of support and services and are at increased risk of violence and further discrimination. As demonstrated through the Disability Rights Monitor, people living in institutions are at increased risk of abuse or neglect as visits are restricted and supervision by families or a support network are lacking. Coercive measures such as forced placement, treatment or restraint seem to be on the rise as they are considered the ‘easy’ solution due to staff shortage or disruption of community-based services. People in institutions are also at increased risk of infection due to overcrowded and often unhygienic conditions with poor access to health care. Despite the proven effectiveness of prevention and early intervention when it comes to mental health problems, support for people experiencing distress or people with psychosocial disabilities is insufficiently prioritised in current policy responses.
The impact of COVID-19 on the 84 million people with mental health problems in the European Union alone should not be underestimated.iv The current crisis will bring unprecedented social and economic consequences to our societies, and even more so to people with psychosocial disabilities who are at increased risk of poverty and social exclusion. Adding to a likely rise of demands for psychosocial support in the aftermath of COVID-19 crisis, governments need to act now if they want to ensure that the current public health crisis does not become a longterm mental health and social crisis.
In general, MHE welcomes the approach taken by the Commission to take into account all provisions established in the UN CRPD, including a lifecycle perspective. Recalling the evaluation of the Strategy 2010-2020 (which at the time of writing was not published yet, MHE would like to remind of the importance to consider persons with disabilities in their full diversity, thus acknowledging the diversity of barriers. This is particularly important for persons with psychosocial disabilities often considered as persons with invisible disabilities. For example, accessibility issues might not necessarily be placed in the physical environment, but rather in negative attitudes and stigma towards persons with psychosocial disabilities and persons with mental health problems.
With regards to coordination, the strategy needs to establish disability focal points across the EU institutions, delegations and all Directorates-General, as recommended by the UN CRPD Committee’s Concluding Observations to the EU. MHE would like to particularly highlight the importance to establish a disability focal point within the DG Justice, touching upon questions of equality such as legal capacity, access to justice and the security and liberty of the person. The UN CRPD also requires all Member States to establish focal points. Each focal point should have sufficient human and financial resources to effectively coordinate the implementation of the UN CRPD. In this, the strategy should have the ability to smoothly integrate future recommendations from the upcoming UN CRPD review process, general comments by the UN CRPD Committee and among others the recommendations by the UN Special Rapporteurs touching upon disability rights.
While the EU continues to discuss the structures and objectives of funding under the new Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF), the Disability Rights Strategy 2021-2030 needs to be considered in coherence and thus harmonized with several other key EU strategies. These include the new Gender Equality Strategy, the EU Anti-racism Action Plan 2020-2025, the Victim’s Rights Strategy, the New Pact on Migration and Asylum and the Action Plan on Migration and Integration, Strategy on Children Rights, the Child Guarantee, the LGBTI Strategy, post-2020 EU Framework on Roma Equality and Inclusion Strategies and other relevant upcoming policy initiatives.
For more details, please contact Jonas Bull, Policy and Research Officer of Mental Health Europe at jonas[dot]bull[at]mhe-sme[dot]org.