Council Conclusions on a comprehensive approach to the mental health of young people in the EU
On 23 November, the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council approved conclusions on a comprehensive approach to the mental health of young people in the European Union.
The set of draft Council Conclusions had been submitted by the Presidency to the Working Party on Public Health in September, following the publication of the Commission communication on “A comprehensive approach to Mental Health” on 7 June 2023. This is one of four sets of conclusions aimed to prioritise mental health and wellbeing across the European Union (EU).
Mental Health Europe welcomes the Spanish Presidency’s commitment to improve mental health of young people. We are delighted to see that many of the elements we have been advocating for over the last years have been taken into account by the Council.
Mental Health long-term action plan
Mental Health Europe, alongside stakeholders such as the Mental Health Advocacy Platform and Members of the European Parliament have long been calling for an intersectional European Mental Health Strategy with comprehensive objectives, clearly established benchmarks and indicators, as well as an adequate budget allocated for its implementation. We commend the Council’s call to consider mental health in connection with initiatives such as the EU Youth Strategy to address mental health through a cross-sectorial approach. However, we reiterate the call for a European Mental Health Action Plan and a European Year on Mental Health to lay out a path for the European Union to work on the development of a long-term action on mental health.
The conclusion considered and called member states and the Commission to support the implementation of the 20 flagship initiatives from the Communication on a comprehensive approach to mental health.
The text also noted that whilst certain groups are more likely to bear an unequal burden, they are also less likely to receive tailored mental health support. Nevertheless, like the Communication, which included only two flagship initiatives on vulnerable groups, the conclusion abstained from underscoring the need for increased funding on mental health as well as reference to concrete actions to propel action on policies identified, the implementation of the flagship initiatives or resources for helping those most in need.
Integration of mental health in all policies and intersectionality
Mental Health Europe is pleased to see the conclusion is framed around the socio-economic determinants of mental health, with particular attention to those who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and inequalities. Specific references were made regarding the need to remove structural barriers that impact young people’s personal and professional development and creating environments that support their socio-economic and psychological well-being.
Human rights focus
Although the conclusion points to the need for an approach that aligns with the psychosocial approach to mental health, there was no mention of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). Reflecting on the human rights commitments taken by the EU and all its member states as parties to the UN CRPD, adopting a human rights-based approach is essential to centre people and their recovery. A rights-based approach to mental health calls for equal access to quality care and support that is holistic and person-centred.
Addressing the mental health continuum
To truly ensure a comprehensive approach, mental health support must be prioritised at every stage of life through capturing the mental health continuum.
The conclusion referred to the mental health of children, as about half of the mental health problems affecting people in their adulthood have their onset during or before adolescence. However, there was a missed opportunity to highlight the need for EU member states to live up to their political commitment and support the development and implementation of the Child Guarantee, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fight child poverty and social exclusion and build a more robust Social Europe.
We commend the recommendation to the European Commission and member states to promote the active participation of young people and call for supporting youth organisations and other relevant experts in their role as providers of information and services to young people regarding their mental health and wellbeing.
Furthermore, the conclusion refers to the need to ensure that young people are aware of the importance of their involvement in ensuring the effectiveness and relevance of the measures to be adopted, using, for instance, youth-friendly and accessible communication. While notable, to meaningfully and actively engage young people in decisions about their mental health, appropriate continuous, and structured mechanisms must be established, in policy and decision-making, throughout all phases of the process. This requires the development of successful outreach and participation to allow the engagement of young people from diverse backgrounds, with a focus on young people from disadvantaged situations and living in severe exclusion. Here, sustainable support for youth(-led) organisations should be scaled up, such as through ensuring long-term continuous funding that especially considers the operational realities of grassroots or community-based organisation.
The conclusion calls for the EU and its member states to support the promotion of channels for young people in vulnerable situations to voice their concerns. Unfortunately, such actions mainly focus on ad-hoc initiatives rather than creating a structure for mainstreaming the meaningful and regular engagement of young people as well as all other key stakeholders. As such, we maintain our call for further efforts to ensure increased cooperation with young people, youth experts and particularly those with lived experience. Holistic approaches to mental health prevention, support and services should be developed alongside affected communities, including above all the involvement of young people with psychosocial disabilities, through co-creation and in a non-tokenistic manner.
Breaking stigma and end discrimination
We applaud the focus on addressing mental health stigma and discrimination. However, the text focuses on inviting young people to adopt behaviours that improve their mental well-being to aid in destigmatising mental health issues. While it might be easier to act on individual skills, this is not enough to achieve good mental health for all. Structural changes must be put in place to enhance protective factors, including easy access to quality community supports, and mitigate risk factors related to the broader socio-economic and environmental determinants of mental health.
Reflective of the Commission Communication, this conclusion also noted the targeting efforts on the reintegration of young people into society. We recognise that reintegration into society after recovery is one of the three pillars of the European Commission’s Communication on a comprehensive approach to mental health. Nonetheless, we believe it is important to avoid considering exclusion from society as inevitable and rather focus on providing support to remove structural barriers and make sure people remain part of society through their recovery path.
Enhancing mental health literacy
Mental health literacy is imperative to break stigma and change the narrative around mental health. Thus, we find it disappointing that investment in mental health literacy and the inclusion of mental health in school curricula and the curricula of frontline professionals that work directly with youth (e.g. primary carers and teachers) was not incorporated into the text. We reiterate our calls for the EU and member states to support increased education on mental health, to combat discrimination, promote equity and equality, foster a culture of inclusion, and normalise the conversation around mental health among the young people.
We regard the Spanish Presidency’s commitment on mental health an essential step to laying the foundation for a stronger commitment to mental health in the future. Mental health has been highlighted continuously by young people as a priority for them, including in the Conference on the Future of Europe outcomes, the Youth Dialogue with Commissioner Kyriakides and the European Youth Goals, #5 (among other goals) which sets out to achieve better mental wellbeing and end stigmatisation of mental health issues, thus promoting social inclusion of all young people. As such, we remain available to further strengthen our collaboration with future presidencies to work towards long-term discussions with the Council and relevant stakeholders to ensure adequate, rights-based, and person-centred mental health care and support is a reality for young people.
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