On 7 June 2023, the European Commission adopted the Communication on a global approach to mental health, which will help Member States to act swiftly to address mental health challenges.
Since 2006, the European Parliament has been calling the European Commission for specific actions in the field of mental health. The first resolution in which the European Parliament calls for a European strategy on mental health dates back to the year 2006 . The next resolution was published three years later, in 2009.
Although the European Commission has during these years carried out more or less relevant actions such as the Framework for Action on Mental Health and Well-being (2013) or the EU Compass on Mental Health and Well-being (2015-2018), it was not until the outbreak of the COVID pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis, that the European Commission responded for the first time to the urgent need for a European strategy on mental health, following the State of the Union speech of its President Ursula Von der Leyen.
It was at this point that inter-institutional negotiations began to design the strategy and civil society was consulted. On 7 June, the first European Commission Communication on Mental Health was published. It is a comprehensive, prevention-oriented, multi-stakeholder approach to mental health.
The new approach adopts a psychosocial character, recognising that mental health is not limited to health and, therefore, largely involves areas such as education, digitalisation, employment, research, urban development, environment and climate. It also focuses on vulnerable groups, especially children, and addresses the importance of education and culture to prevent mental disorders, without neglecting the negative impacts of digitalisation (excessive use of screens, cyberbullying, pornography, etc.). The importance of synergies with other strategies such as care or between different financial instruments has not been overlooked.
However, beyond a hopeful narrative with a social and even cultural component, when it comes to submitting proposals, the Commission limits itself, once again, to collecting existing initiatives and actions and filling gaps with inefficient toolkits, guidelines and symbolic initiatives (awards, ceremonies, etc.). Some of the Communication’s flagship initiatives, which bring together funding opportunities worth EUR 1.23 billion, include the following:
- More than €30 million under the EUproHealth Programme for projects addressing public health aspects of mental health, including mental health system reform. Under this work programme approved in 2022, the following initiatives are included:
– EUR 10 million to support the role of stakeholders in promoting mental health in communities, with a focus on vulnerable groups, in particular children and young people and migrant or refugee populations.
– EUR 2.36 million for stakeholders to support projects related to mental health promotion, prevention and management of mental health problems.
– EUR 11 million to support Member States in capacity building and training of professionals.
– EUR 2 million for empowerment policies.
– EUR10 million to projects addressing mental health challenges in cancer patients/survivors and their carers and families. – In addition, the same programme supports the field implementation of best practices with a direct impact on actions to address mental health challenges during COVID-19 through a financial contribution from the Commission for a total amount of EUR 750,000.
- EUR 5.4 million under the ImpleMENTAL programme for national projects.
- EUR 8.3 million from the non-communicable diseases programme.
- EUR 6 million to reduce the risk of people experiencing serious mental health problems by supporting the development and implementation of policies to prevent depression and suicide.
- Agreement for a contribution of EUR 28.4 million euros with the International Federation of the Red Cross to help people who have fled Ukraine.
- Displaced persons from Ukraine are also the subject of a call for four EUR 3 million proposals from non-governmental organisations for best practices to improve the mental health and psychological well-being of migrant and refugee populations.
- EUR 765 million through the Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe Programmes to support research and innovation projects in mental health.
This strategy represents a major step forward in the field of mental health, but its success will require considerable investment in the health and care sectors, prioritising public services and rejecting any tendency to commercialise care.
In addition, prevention policies for vulnerable groups will have to be strengthened at national level by making use of other financial instruments such as the Child Guarantee or the Youth Guarantee, implementing the Pillar of Social Rights and strengthening the welfare state.