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Well-being first: Redefining priorities for Europe’s mental health

Mental health / EPC FLASH ANALYSIS
Laura Rayner , Elizabeth Kuiper , Danielle Brady

Date: 10/10/0023
The 10th of October marks World Mental Health Day. A day that the World Health Organisation describes as an “opportunity to improve knowledge, raise awareness and drive actions that promote and protect everyone’s mental health as a universal human right.’’

Recognition of mental health as a public health concern and its wider economic and societal implications has risen dramatically in recent years, notably following the COVID-19 pandemic. Although this acknowledgement is a positive development, its context is far from ideal, indicating that over 84 million individuals in the EU grapple with mental health challenges.

Under these circumstances and in response to calls from the European Parliament and European citizens via the Conference on the Future of Europe, the European Commission in June 2023 published a communication outlining a comprehensive approach to mental health. The Communication, the final building block of the European Health Union initiative, which sets out the EU’s intentions regarding mental health. These revolve around three foundational principles:

  • Guaranteeing access to efficient preventative measures.
  • Providing accessible, top-quality mental healthcare and treatment.
  • Supporting individual’s reintegration into society following their recovery.

Like all areas of health, mental health is influenced and impacted by other domains such as the environment, labour market and the impact of social media. For example, a 2021 study revealed that 75% of children and young people described their future as “frightening’’. Simultaneously, the research highlighted a connection between climate anxiety and distress, inadequate government response, and feelings of betrayal. This leads to questions about our societies and the way we live.

The current era of permacrisis, defined by “high levels of uncertainty, fragility and unpredictability”, has immense negative implications for the mental health of populations. Research points to a rise in global temperatures leading to more frequent and severe weather events, the ongoing Russian-Ukraine conflict, the cost-of-living crisis, and significant challenges tied to Europe's demographic trends. This uncertainty is unlikely to lessen. Therefore, it's difficult to see how mental health challenges can be tackled without a shift towards a system that prioritises people's needs and protects them from existing and future risks.

To “drive actions that promote and protect everyone’s mental health as a universal human right,” we must challenge current norms that revolve around GDP growth as a measure of progress and success, the focus of which is gradually eroding various aspects of societal resilience including public health, climate action, socioeconomic equity, well-being, and social unity.

The well-being economy agenda could change the current paradigm by developing and maximising societal resilience and well-being at a local, national and international level. Incorporating well-being and resilience into the European economy is essential for addressing the concerns and anxieties of people and safeguarding them against economic, social, environmental, and political challenges and perils.

While this is not an overnight solution to Europe’s mental health challenges nor an easy task, it must be undertaken not just for today but for the health of future generations.

Danielle Brady is a Policy Analyst in the Social Europe and Well-being programme at the European Policy Centre.

Elizabeth Kuiper is an Associate Director and Head of the Social Europe and Well-Being programme at the European Policy Centre.

Laura Rayner is a Senior Policy Analyst in the Social Europe and Well-Being programme at the European Policy Centre.

The support the European Policy Centre receives for its ongoing operations, or specifically for its publications, does not constitute an endorsement of their contents, which reflect the views of the authors only. Supporters and partners cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

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