European Parliament Own Initiative Report – our reaction
On December 13th, the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg voted to endorse the Own Initiative Report on mental health, led by MEP Sara Cerdas. This report stands as the European Parliaments response to the European Commission’s Communication on a Comprehensive Approach to Mental Health.
EU Action Plan on Mental Health
In line with Mental Health Europe, the report calls for the European Commission and corresponding member states to develop comprehensive Mental Health Strategies with quantifiable objectives, a clear timeline, adequate budget, objectives, as well as measurable indicators to monitor progress, and a focus on the most vulnerable groups. Since the Communication did not establish new funding, the Parliament calls for the Commission to convert the flagship initiatives, into concrete actions with adequate financial support for vulnerable groups, create a mission on Mental Health from the Horizon Europe programme and the future programme in the Multiannual Financial Framework 2028- 2035.
To lay out a plan for the European Union to work on the development of a long-term action on mental health, the Parliament encourages effective leadership and governance from the Commission by moving beyond the usual approach of ‘sharing’ best practices. Following the Conference on the Future of Europe recommendations, the European Parliament also calls for the next year to be designated the European Year of Mental Health.
Adopt a psychosocial model of understanding mental health to address social determinants and structural barriers, and provide tailored support
The report emphasises the socio-economic and environmental determinants of mental health, and stresses that policies impacting, involving or regarding mental health must be multidimensional, person-centred, and human rights compliant, recognising diversity, cultural sensitivity, and multiple intersectional needs.
In contrast, the report stresses the importance of a biopsychosocial approach to mental health and the need to consider biological factors (alongside other factors) in treatment decisions and research. The report also invites the Commission to incentivise the development and introduction of technological, pharmaceutical, and behavioural interventions. In response to these recommendations, Mental Health Europe maintains the position that strengthening the focus on biological links to mental health problems does not constitute a balanced approach to mental health. Interventions based on biomedical factors have been heavily subsidised compared to psychosocial ones, and yet have proven to be limited and often ineffective. Mental Health Europe firmly calls for greater investment in implementing structural and systemic changes, to effectively facilitate better mental health outcomes for all.
The report references the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) and its associated approaches, such as addressing social determinants and shifting towards deinstitutionalisation. As state parties to the UN CRPD, the European Union and its member states should ensure actions on mental health are informed by the psychosocial model of mental health, including by funding research in line with the paradigm shift away from the biomedical model which the UN CRPD represents.
Groups in vulnerable situations
Mental Health Europe is pleased to see increased prominence given to the needs of different marginalised groups through an intersectional lens. The report also highlights the role of communities in prevention and early intervention and the need to reshape environments that influence mental health such as home, education, workplaces, and broader communities.
In the context of holistic care, Mental Health Europe praises the encouragement of a life-course approach to mental health and the calls for tools to deliver disaggregated data. The report also focuses on strengthening mental health systems by building networks of interconnected services that cover a broad spectrum of care and support needs, within and beyond the health sector. We also note efforts calling on the Commission to support the development of capacity building and empowerment tools for populations in vulnerable situations, to help them thrive in their communities. While this is valuable, initiatives on mental health should tackle the broader socio-economic and environmental factors that can negatively impact mental health, rather than focus on downstream and lifestyle-oriented changes (e.g., asking people to be more resilient or put the responsibility of changes mainly on individuals).
Tailored mental health support
Positively, this report largely aligns with the principles of equitable, affordable, and easy access to care, empowerment of those living with mental health conditions, choice of desired treatment, and patient-centeredness, which should underpin mental health systems across the EU. In this context, it advocates for primary care to focus on community-led responses. While social prescribing is presented as useful for providing diverse options in support, we should avoid regarding social prescribing as a central solution to addressing mental health.
Regarding mental health in the workplace, we see again a reference to “reintegration” into society after recovery, which echoes a biomedical understanding of psychosocial disabilities. This approach foresees the exclusion from society as inevitable. Instead, Mental Health Europe calls for further efforts to remove structural barriers and make sure people remain part of society, including during their recovery process.
The report encourages large-scale adoption mental health first aid training programs. Mental health Europe underlines that mental health first aid training should not be utilised as a replacement for long term and continuous training, especially for frontline professionals (e.g. humanitarian actors).
The report notes the importance of psychologists in education. Without negating this, implementing structural and systemic changes in schools is essential, to effectively facilitate better mental health outcomes for all. Such changes could include educating school professionals and students in understanding what mental health is, tackling common issues such as bullying, and implementing a holistic approach to mental health (e.g. work with social workers etc.).
Digitalisation and mental health
Mental Health Europe welcomes the reference to the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the recommendation to move towards a safer and healthier digital space for all, by guaranteeing an upward convergence and setting the highest and safest benchmarks. We stress the responsibility – highlighted in the DSA – of online platforms in assessing and mitigating possible risks to children’s rights and to mental health, by focusing also on design features and not just on content. In relation to digital technologies and mental health care, we reiterate our call for human rights and co-creation as compass, so that digital technologies are not applied just because they are feasible or profitable, but because they respond appropriately to real needs.
Tackling mental health stigma
Mental Health Europe has long been calling for language and terminology that reflects on the variety of mental health experiences and frames the topic in an inclusive and non-stigmatising way. The report still incorporates terminology such as ‘mental health disorders’, which is at odds with the welcome calls for the Commission to create a mental health taxonomy guideline, in collaboration with international health organisations, to avoid the use of negative connotations within policy documents and to harmonise the use of mental health lexicon across Europe. Mental Health Europe thinks that the development of such guideline should also involve civil society and people with lived experience, in a truly co-creative approach.
In recent years, we have witnessed an increased value given to mental health by individuals, communities, and governments. It is now time to match this value with commitment, engagement, and investment by all stakeholders, across all sectors. The European Commission’s Communication on a Comprehensive Approach to Mental Health and the European Parliament’s report on Mental Health are two cornerstones for the future European Health Union. This report on mental health highlights the need for the European Union and its member state to take a stronger commitment by delivering a long-term action on mental health, including a strategy. In view of the upcoming European Elections and new college of Commissioners, Mental Health Europe hopes the next EU legislature will build on this momentum, understand the crucial role of the psychosocial approach for cohesive societies, avoid undue influence of industrial and commercial interests in mental health related decisions, and ensure no one is left behind.
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