Will 2024 be our European Year of Mental Health?
More than one in six people across the European Union had a mental health issue in 2016. A number which has been on the rise, as a result of COVID-19, and which make mental health conditions some of the fastest-growing current health burden. It is estimated, in fact, that the pandemic led to a 27,6% increase in cases of major depressive disorders and a 25,6% in cases of anxiety disorders worldwide in 2020, which explains the nickname of the 'second' or 'silent' pandemic. Yet, impacts have not just been limited to health. Socio-economic impacts have also been dramatic, with unemployment, social and economic inequality, low income or standard of living, poor physical health challenging life events and poor quality of life and stigma, having been consistently associated with poor mental health. So it is estimated that mental ill health is associated with a total cost of over 600 billion euros (> 4% of GDP) across the 28 EU countries, to be responsible for 1/3 of all disabilities, 15% of all inpatient costs and ¼ of all medicine costs.
Yet, despite the high numbers, mental health and related policies have often been placed at the bottom of the EU agenda, until now.
A European Year of Mental Health
In April 2021, over 40 European MEPs endorsed 2023 to become a European Year of Mental health as part of an initiative launched by the MEP Alliance of Mental Health, an interest group on mental health, well-being and brain disorders. A dedicated European Year of Mental Health would be a tangible and coordinated initiative to raise awareness of mental health and its importance, provide a platform for stakeholders to exchange and share experiences and good practices and promote and facilitate discussion. An intention which had already been expressed during another virtual meeting in November 2020 by a number of MEPs, and one which has long been worked towards by external organisations, such as GAMIAN-Europe, Mental Health Europe and Euro Youth Mental Health. We too at Schuttelaar & Partners through our Young Professionals Network, organized a high-level event within this framework on June 14 to provide more visibility and understanding of mental health among young professionals. A successful event, chaired by MEP Maria Walsh, co-chair of the Mental Health Alliance as well as the Coalition of Mental Health and Wellbeing Interest Groups in the European Parliament and leader of the call for 2023 to be the EU Year of Good Mental Health, in which 4 insightful speakers were given the floor to share their testimonials, talk about the link between mental health and technology and discuss how Belgian companies can promote psychosocial well-being on the work floor.
Despite 2023 not having been attributed the title of European Year of Mental Health in the end, the momentum generated by these events and initiatives, as well as Maria Walsh's own social media advocacy campaign, recently showed some positive impact, as the State of the Union speech and the EU Commission programme reveal.
A strategy for mental health was first announced by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during her State of the Union speech on September 14, 2022. The speech, which takes place each year in September, serves to take stock of the achievements of the past year, address the most pressing challenges faced by the union and to present the priorities for the year ahead. A mental health initiative is one of the several health actions on the agenda for 2023, more precisely for the second quarter of the year. European Commissioner Stella Kyriakides offered more details on this initiative during another plenary debate held on October 18, painting mental health issues as being in need of an improved understanding and prioritized prevention and calling on all actors to show their commitment in this endeavour.
Schuttelaar & Partners will closely follow developments in relation to this initiative, along with actions taken by individual member states.