Towards a long-term Mental Health Strategy

long-term mental health strategy
© Artur Szczybylo

Chairs of the Parliament’s Coalition for Mental Health and Wellbeing demand immediate action to address the growing mental health crisis and the creation of a long-term Mental Health Strategy

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than one in six people in the EU were diagnosed with mental health issues, making up one of the largest categories of diseases. We must start taking the matter as seriously as physical health. When not treated, these conditions correlate with chronic physical illnesses – such as heart disease. They also elevate the risk of bodily injury and death through accidents, violence, and suicide. There is immense personal suffering to those impacted and their family, friends and communities.

The rise of mental health issues

Mental health issues have been on the rise for the past decade, and the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated this problem. Isolation, fear for one’s safety or others, the strain of economic uncertainty and adjusting to new realities such as home-schooling or teleworking have contributed to a historic rise in mental health problems. Before the pandemic, existing mental healthcare services lacked adequate resources, were under-funded and were often struggling to meet the demands of their communities. Clearly, there are structural problems in how society responds to and values mental health issues.

There is a massive disparity between the immense impact that mental health issues have on our societies and the level of commitment and solutions made to efficiently address them. There is considerable inequality in access to mental health treatment, both between the Member States and inside them. Persistently, mental health is not considered part of essential services.

There is an immense human cost to this, but also a material one. It’s difficult to estimate the total economic impact of mental illness in the EU, but we know it to be at least €600 billion per year– or more than 4% of our GDP. Mental health problems have become the leading cause of disability-related early retirement in many Member States, amounting to millions of lost working years.

There is a high threshold for seeking treatment, or other forms of help, due to stigma or lack of awareness. The hoops people have to jump through; social pressure, excessive waiting times, treatment costs and lack of access, all prevent people from recovering. We would consider these obstacles to treatment unacceptable for any physical ailment. Why can’t we give the same rights and dignity to people with mental illness, especially considering how much is at stake?

Right now, the EU is heavily investing in strategic sectors in the European economy to boost recovery after the pandemic. Unfortunately, little attention has been paid to rebuilding and promoting the mental health and wellbeing of Europeans. This lack of attention to what many experts call the next big health crisis in Europe is completely unacceptable.

The past year has refocused the EU institutions’ consideration of health policy, and President Von der Leyen has made it clear that the Commission aspires for a more robust European Health Union. This is all well and good, but if we want this European Health Union to be truly effective and resilient, we need to guarantee that citizens’ mental health and wellbeing are given the same due considerations as their physical health.

Mental health towards the end of COVID-19

As we move towards what seems to be the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to make sure that the aftershocks of the pandemic do not result in further crisis specifically, a mental health crisis. We must ensure that mental health is put at the heart of the European Agenda. The long-term recovery from this crisis is dependent on how the EU and its Member States support the quality of life and well-being of its citizens, which will, in turn, affect Europe’s long-term cohesion, economic performance and productivity.

It’s time to act based on evidence, statistics and science. We can no longer ignore this reality faced by millions of citizens because if we do, future generations will judge the EU’s inaction. It is, therefore, time to urge the Commission to swiftly address these issues and come forward with a comprehensive Mental Health Strategy, that addresses both the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on mental health and the underlying structural problems of our healthcare systems and our society in tackling mental health and wellbeing.

Contributor Profile

Co-Chair Coalition for Mental Health and Wellbeing
European Parliament Mental Health Europe
Website: Visit Website

Contributor Profile

Co-Chair Coalition for Mental Health and Wellbeing
European Parliament Mental Health Europe
Website: Visit Website

Contributor Profile

Co-Chair Coalition for Mental Health and Wellbeing
European Parliament Mental Health Europe
Website: Visit Website

Contributor Profile

Co-Chair Coalition for Mental Health and Wellbeing
European Parliament Mental Health Europe
Website: Visit Website

Contributor Profile

Co-Chair Coalition for Mental Health and Wellbeing
European Parliament Mental Health Europe
Website: Visit Website

Contributor Profile

Co-Chair Coalition for Mental Health and Wellbeing
European Parliament Mental Health Europe
Website: Visit Website

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