During her State of the European Union address on Wednesday (September 14), European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that a new initiative on mental health would be presented in 2023.
“We should take better care of each other. For people who are feeling anxious and lost, appropriate, accessible and affordable support can make all the difference.”said Ms von der Leyen announcing the initiative.
In her letter of intent addressed to the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, as well as to the Czech Prime Minister, Petr Fiala, she described this new initiative as“comprehensive approach to mental health”.
Although no further details were given, Ms von der Leyen noted that the initiative was a response to the conclusions of the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), which ended in May.
In the 9th recommendation of the CoFoE, we find the need to have “a broader vision of health”the first measure requires an improvement of “understanding mental health issues and how to deal with them”.
“To raise public awareness, EU institutions and relevant stakeholders should organize events to exchange good practices and help their members to disseminate them in their own constituency”is it indicated.
“A Union action plan on mental health should be developed, which would provide a long-term strategy on mental health, including research, and which would also address the issue of the availability of professionals, there
including for minors, and the establishment, in the near future, of a European Year of Mental Health”can we also read.
Mental health issues on the rise
EU mental health initiatives have been few so far. In June 2022, the European Commission presented its initiative “ Healthier Together», a strategy for the fight against non-communicable diseases, one of the axes of which is the“mental health and neurological disorders”.
Although not high on the agenda of policy makers, psychological well-being is increasingly at the center of politicians’ concerns, in part due to concerns raised by researchers about the decline of mental health in the EU following the restrictive measures put in place in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While this trend did not start with the onset of the pandemic, lockdowns have made the situation worse, and some studies suggest that the introduction of social distancing measures has had a particularly detrimental effect in this regard.
The World Health Organization (WHO) had already warned that the consequences of confinements on mental health would not be the same for all social groups. She pointed out that young people, women and people with pre-existing physical health conditions, such as asthma, cancer or heart disease, were more likely to develop symptoms of mental disorders.
On Tuesday, MEPs voted in favor of a non-binding report calling for increased spending on education and culture to tackle the deteriorating mental health of children and young people.
The report states that between 10-20% of children and young people faced mental health issues before the pandemic and multiple lockdowns, a figure that now stands at around 20-25%.