Briefing on Recent EU Policy Developments on Mental Health
In September 2022, mental health was mentioned for the first time in a State of the Union address, when European Commission President von der Leyen announced there would be a mental health initiative. Subsequently, we have witnessed concrete action at European level on the topic. While we should celebrate these achievements, we should continue to push for mental health to be kept high on the European agenda.
In this document, we have summarised relevant policy processes in 2023 related to mental health. Considering the European Elections will be taking place in 2024, it is essential we remind candidates of what has been done on mental health and addressing social exclusion and where we need to focus efforts henceforth. Advocacy is crucial during the pre-elections phase to ensure that future elected members of the European Union institutions are devoted to placing mental health high on their political agenda. The upcoming European elections are an ideal opportunity to ensure that we elect allies that will hold stead-fast in their comment and investment in mental health through long-term action.
European Commission Communication on a Comprehensive Approach to Mental Health
On 7 June, the European Commission published the Communication on a comprehensive approach to mental health.
The communication aims to put mental health on par with physical health and to ensure a new, cross sectoral approach to mental health issues. With 20 flagship initiatives and €1.23 billion in EU funding from different financial instruments, the Commission will support Member States putting people and their mental health first. EU action on mental health will focus on three guiding principles: adequate and effective prevention; access to high quality and affordable mental healthcare and treatment; and reintegration into society after recovery. The comprehensive approach looks at mental health across all policies.
An analysis evaluating the Communication based on Mental Health Europe’s main recommendations, was produced in response, with concrete proposals. Overall, Mental Health Europe views the Communication as an essential initial step, laying the foundation for a more robust commitment to mental health in the future. The European Parliament Coalition for mental health and wellbeing, also released a reaction mirroring Mental Health Europe’s.
The Council of the European Union
Following the European Commission communication on a comprehensive approach to mental health, the Spanish Presidency announced that strengthening mental health is a multidisciplinary priority. During the 6-month presidency, four sets of conclusions were produced to prioritise mental health and wellbeing across the European Union, with a particular focus on the most urgent matters and the most vulnerable groups.
Council Conclusions on mental health and precarious work
On 9 October, the Council approved the first-ever set of conclusions on the interconnection between mental health and employment, with a focus on precarious work.
Mental health and work are closely interconnected. Mental health is an important issue for work ability and productivity, and, conversely, psychosocial risks at work can be detrimental to mental health. In particular, precarious work, including poorly paid and unprotected jobs, may lead to anxiety and depression.
The Council invites member states, among other things, to: promote quality employment policies to combat precariousness; strengthen public systems that safeguard mental health at work; support the recruitment or reintegration of workers with mental health problems.
The Council also invites the European Commission to: reflect on an adequate policy for addressing psychosocial risks at work; consider the right to disconnect as a prevention measure; foster coordination of national initiatives on the management of psychosocial risks at work.
The conclusions mark a significant step towards recognising the impact of mental health and actively promoting workers’ psychological well-being.
Council conclusions on young people
On 23 November, youth ministers approved conclusions on a comprehensive approach to the mental health of young people in the European Union. The conclusions highlight the need for preventive measures on mental wellbeing for young people. The focus is on the need to grant young people access to mental health care services and to take measures to increase awareness and break the stigma.
Mental Health Europe welcomed the Spanish Presidency’s commitment to improve mental health of young people. Many elements we have been advocating for over the last years have been taken into account by the Council. Some examples include calling for a cross-sectorial approach, as well as encouraging member states and the Commission to support the implementation of the 20 flagship initiatives from the Communication.
Council Conclusions on people who have both drug use disorders and mental health problems
On 4 December, the Council approved Conclusions on people having drug use disorders that co-occur with other mental health disorders*. The Conclusions build on the recognition – as indicated in the Commission communication on a comprehensive approach to mental health- that the special care needs of people with comorbidities should be addressed to facilitate access to effective treatments, in particular for people with drug-use disorders (DUDs).
The conclusions highlight the importance of paying particular attention to the availability and accessibility of adequate and effective treatment for people having both DUDs and other mental health disorders. Treatment should happen regardless of the point of entry into the health and care system (in line with the principle of ‘no wrong door’) and be based on effective coordination between the services.
The Council invites the European Commission and Member States to promote measures aimed at minimising stigma and discrimination associated with both mental health and drug use. The conclusions also call for professional training for health care and other field professionals, and development of reliable and comparable indicators across countries.
|* Please note – the Council Conclusions terminology used (disorder, detection, treatment) is in line with a biomedical approach to mental health. Mental Health Europe rather argues for a psychosocial approach to mental health and calls for a different language (read our glossary here).
Council Conclusions on mental health
On 30 November, the Council of the European Union approved conclusions on mental health.
Building on the Commission’s communication on a comprehensive approach to mental health, the conclusions encourage the member states and the Commission to continue moving towards a comprehensive approach to mental health maintaining this subject in the international agenda. We are particularly pleased to see the recommendations to the European Commission to present an overview document including a timetable for each flagship initiative and the allocated financial budget and to monitor and analyse the effectiveness of the implementation of the flagship initiatives.
The Council invites member states to elaborate actions plans or strategies with a cross-sectoral approach to mental health, addressing not only health, but also employment, education, digitalisation and AI, culture, environment and climate factors, among other things.
European Parliament Own-Initiative Report (INI) on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)
On 13 December, the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg voted to endorse the Own Initiative Report on Non-Communicable diseases (NCDs), led by MEP Erik Poulsen.
Mental health and neurological disorders are placed within the wider global NCDs agenda, both at global (SDG 3.4) and EU level.
The European Parliament (EP) report includes some references to mental health, mainly in terms the possible negative impacts of NCDs on mental health. The importance of caring for children and adolescents, including with regard to their mental health, is stressed. The EP also calls for the implementation of accessible and equitable self-management tools, including peer support networks, collaborative care platforms and mental health services, taking into account factors such as the availability of digital services and technologies.
European Parliament Own-Initiative Report (INI) on mental health
On 13 December, 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 EP’s response to the European Commission’s Communication on a Comprehensive Approach to Mental Health. The important report is a cornerstone for the future European Health Union. This document outlines 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.
European Parliament Own-Initiative Report (INI) on Addictive design of online services and consumer protection in the EU single market
On 12 December, the EP adopted – with an overwhelming majority – an own-initiative report on addictive design of online services. Whilst acknowledging the positive effect social media can have on society, MEPs also warn of the addictive nature of online games, social media, streaming services, and online marketplaces, which exploit users’ vulnerabilities to capture their attention and monetise their data.
Mounting research has revealed the pernicious ways in which social media platforms capitalise on the specific vulnerabilities of the youngest in society. In November 2023, an investigation by Amnesty International, for example, found that within 20 minutes of launching a dummy account posing as a 13-year-old child on TikTok who interacted with mental health content, more than half of the videos on the ‘For You’ feed was related to mental health struggles. Within an hour, multiple videos romanticizing, normalizing or encouraging suicide had been recommended.
The EP urges the Commission to address existing legal gaps and introduce new legislation against addictive design. If not addressed, the EP will use its right of legislative initiative.
Mental Health Europe had urged MEPs to vote in favour of the Report, in the framework of a campaign led by People vs Big Tech.
European Economic and Social Committee Opinion on Measures to improve mental health
On 13 July, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) adopted an Opinion on Measures to improve mental health, upon request of the Spanish Presidency.
The EESC commended the European Commission’s Comprehensive Approach to Mental Health, adopted in June, and urged that it should be swiftly transposed in an EU Mental Health Strategy. This strategy should have a timeframe, it should define clear responsibilities and include measurable progress indicators (e.g. in the framework of the European Semester process). It should also be properly funded, which should translate into investments in the health sector as part of National Recovery and Resilience Plans.
The EESC supports the development of rights-based, person-centred, recovery-oriented, community-based mental health systems that prioritise the person’s empowerment and active participation in their own recovery, in compliance with the principles of the UN Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities.
If you require further information, feel free to contact Mental Health Policy team: (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com).
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