With the mental health of Europeans deteriorating, the EESC is urging policy-makers at EU and national levels to make it a top priority
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has called for the reform of health systems across the EU in a bid to ensure a comprehensive approach to mental health amid a spike in mental health and behavioural disorders among Europeans, and its young population in particular.
In an opinion requested by the Spanish presidency of the Council of the EU, adopted at its plenary session in July, the EESC stated that mental health care should focus on timely prevention, early detection and community-based care.
We need to urgently reform health systems across the EU to ensure that they deliver integrated and planned long-term interventions and care not only to cure but also to prevent medical conditions, using multidisciplinary teams, instead of being organised around episodic models of care, said rapporteur for the opinion Milena Angelova.
We need to change our mental health care systems. We need more specialists and more support for the people who need it, co-rapporteur for the opinion Ivan Kokalov said.
Young people, children, women and disadvantaged groups, but also people exposed to prolonged stress, are at particular risk of developing a mental disorder.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health has further deteriorated, with some 20% of Europeans experiencing mental health needs, ranging from severe to moderate, which, among other things, have also affected their working life and income. Current estimates show that mental health and behavioural disorders cost the EU some 4% of its GDP annually.
Mental health disorders are also taking a severe human toll and are responsible for roughly 4% of annual deaths in Europe, and are the second most prevalent cause of death among young individuals.
The EESC said it commended the European Commission's Comprehensive Plan on Mental Health, adopted in June, and urged that it should be swiftly transposed in an EU Mental Health Strategy. This strategy should have a timeframe, it should define clear responsibilities and include measurable progress indicators. It should also be properly funded, which should also translate into investments in the health sector as part of National Recovery and Resilience Plans.
The European Semester process should also take into account the impact of socio-economic and environmental factors on mental health.
The EESC said it advocated mental health systems that are rights-based, person-centered, recovery-oriented and community-based. These systems prioritise the empowerment and active participation of individuals in their own recovery, with the ultimate goal of improving their quality of life.
Additionally, the EESC stressed the urgent need for inclusive care and support, focusing on the specific needs of groups at increased risk of developing a mental health issue.
The EESC stressed the need for constant promotion of mental health and the prevention of mental illness. This includes mainstreaming mental health considerations into all EU, national, regional, and sectoral policies.
To achieve this, mental health must be recognised as an integral component of health and well-being in all Member States, with a holistic, coordinated, structured, and human-centered response. Coercion, stigma, segregation, and discrimination surrounding mental health conditions must be addressed and eliminated. This can be done by ensuring that mental health care services meet the standards set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and by developing guidelines, protocols, and training on rights-based approaches for health and social care workers.
Proper funding for health services, along with properly trained healthcare personnel, is also essential to ensure universal access to affordable mental health care.
Given the growing importance of mental health, the EESC strongly recommended that the European Commission should declare 2024 as the European Year of Mental Health. This would send out a powerful signal and encourage the forging of a strong alliance to improve and promote mental health throughout the EU.