On 14 September, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen took the floor in the European Parliament to deliver her third State of the Union address. As expected, solidarity with Ukraine and the energy crisis were key elements of her speech, and the year 2023 was proclaimed the European Year of Education. However, the Commission President surprised us with her words when she said that, having listened to citizens’ demands at the Future of Europe Conference, the European Commission was determined to work on a new initiative on mental health to be presented next year.
“We should take better care of each other. And for many who feel anxious and lost, appropriate, accessible and affordable support can make a difference,” said Von der Leyen.
The Socialists and Democrats Group has been calling for a European Mental Health Strategy for a long time, as we had previously stated in a manifesto published in June this year, in which we called for a strategy that builds on the pillars of the welfare state (education, environment, employment and health), takes into account vulnerable groups such as children and young people, and ensuring coherence with other policy tools and commitments such as the European Pillar of Social Rights, the European Child Guarantee, the Disability Rights Strategy, the European Care Strategy, the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum and the Action Plan on Migration and Integration.
Apart from this socialist manifesto, the S&D group has included requests in several resolutions adopted by the European Parliament. In July 2022, the resolution on employment and digitisation highlighted the need to put mental health on a par with physical health in the world of work, just one month after the adoption of the report on long-term care which called for more comprehensive and strengthened policies in the field of mental health. In addition, in February this year the European Parliament gave the green light to another resolution focusing on the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of young people.
Discussions between the two institutions will begin in the coming months to start laying the groundwork for this new strategy. Cross-cutting collaboration within the European Commission is crucial. The different Directorates-General concerned must coordinate to ensure that this initiative is as effective as possible, addressing the systemic causes of poor mental health, such as poverty, substandard housing, unemployment, precarious employment, lack of social protection and socio-economic and territorial inequalities. Moreover, it must be an initiative that is committed to preventive measures and ensures the adequate provision of quality mental health services for all.
I will be keeping an eye on the European Commission’s proposal, scheduled for the second quarter of 2023, and from the S&D group we will work to ensure that it includes our priorities.