On 24 October, the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) adopted the Council conclusions on the Economy of Well-being. These conclusions are a part of the commitment of the Finnish Presidency to the Council of the European Union (EU) to put the economy of well-being at the centre of all policies.
MHE has been following the discussions on the topic with great interest and presented its initial remarks on the draft Council conclusions in July 2019. Well-being is a crucial aspect for each individual’s health and social inclusion, as well as a key element for the respect and promotion of human rights. The focus of the Finnish Presidency on this, and its recommendation to the European Commission to propose a Mental Health Strategy, has therefore been welcomed as an important step towards improved lives of all across Europe. However, we regret to see that our key suggestions were not introduced in the final text.
The Council conclusions do not explicitly mention the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), which was signed and ratified by all EU Members States and the EU itself. Since the main EU’s instrument to support the implementation of the UN CRPD – the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 – is coming to an end, having a clear mention of the EU’s human rights commitment would have been desirable. The final text recommends the European Commission to “develop new initiatives to address disability policies beyond the current European Disability Strategy 2010–2020.” However, given the limitation in scope of the current Strategy, it would have been preferable to use stronger language calling for the need to adopt a comprehensive post-2020 disability strategy that covers all the provisions of the UN CRPD and adequately addresses the Concluding Observations of the UN CRPD Committee.
Secondly, while stating the importance to make “greater efforts to promote good mental health and to advance […] prevention” the Council conclusions also use a type of language that might have the counterproductive effect of reinforcing negative stereotypes and stigma. Paragraph 18 mentions the need to “advance […] early diagnosis, treatment and destigmatisation of mental disorders […].” MHE appreciates the effort made in the Council conclusions to have the promotion of positive mental health and the prevention of mental health problems as a priority. However, the message would have been more powerful and coherent if expressed in a form that is mindful of people’s experiences and support needs rather than focusing on medical conditions and passive help.
Besides these aspects, MHE is glad to see many positive elements in the text and, more generally, an effort and commitment to put well-being and mental health at the heart of EU policies. With a new European Parliament in place and a College of Commissioners to be appointed over the next weeks, we find that these Council conclusions present a constructive and crucial baseline to guide the political and legislative work of the recently started legislature. With this in mind, MHE would like to take this opportunity to present its recommendations on how to adequately and efficiently implement the Council conclusions.
MHE recommends that Member States, the European Commission, the Employment Committee and the Social Protection Committee:
- Adopt a Mental Health Strategy that not only “takes into account the cross-sectoral impacts of different policies on mental health,” but also integrates and creates synergies with policy, legislative and governance frameworks.
This Strategy should have the ambition of encouraging positive mental health and preventing mental health problems for all, as well as protecting and promoting the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities. In order to be effective and achieve concrete results, it should have comprehensive objectives with clear benchmarks and indicators, an adequate budget allocated, and a monitoring and evaluation mechanism;
- Use a mental health approach when implementing the recommendations of the Council conclusions.
Although not constantly mentioned, positive mental health and the prevention of mental health problems are key prerequisites to achieve and maintain people’s well-being. It is therefore important to mainstream these aspects in all the recommendations, including those that might not explicitly mention mental health, such as promoting structural reforms or mainstreaming mental health in the European Semester;
- Adequately cover and address psychosocial risks factors in the workplace when reviewing the EU Strategic Framework on Health and Safety at Work.
Given the high costs that mental ill-health has on labour market participation and productivity (a conservative estimation puts it to EUR 240 billion in the EU, or 1.6% of its GDP), psychosocial risks factors cannot be overlooked nor addressed only when they manifest. Prevention of work-related stress and addressing psychosocial risk factors as a serious health and safety issue should become the norm in the EU and its Member States.