EU Mental Health Initiative - Good Intention or toothless Initiative?

UM – 06/2023

On 7 June, the European Commission presented its approach for a "comprehensive strategy for mental health". An already leaked draft from the beginning of May suggested that too high expectations are inappropriate. This has been confirmed. The Commission Notification COM(2023) 298 final only shows good intentions by proposing an approach to mental health challenges in society as a whole. This approach also aims to put mental health on a par with physical health as a first step. The European Commission wants to provide EUR 1.23 billion for this.

Vulnerable groups

Today, one in six people in the European Union (EU) suffers from mental health problems. The situation has been aggravated by the crises of the past years. The coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns had given a whole generation of children and young people a series of missed opportunities. Refugees and migrants encounter foreign cultures and reservations; often enough with traumatic experiences. Senior citizens suffer from loneliness in increasing numbers. The energy crisis and inflation create existential fears, climate change creates a feeling of lack of perspective among young people. It is important to pay special attention to these vulnerable groups.

Not everything is new

The European Commission's approach can be implemented by three core principles: prevention, access to treatment and reintegration after recovery. Measures are to be taken or supported at EU level and in the Member States via 20 lighthouse initiatives. Proposals range from announcements to supporting Member State action and promoting best practice exchange to building networks. Some of this relates to existing measures, such as the right to disconnect from online work. However, the generally noticeable reluctance to propose more far-reaching measures can also be explained by the primary responsibility of the Member States for health and healthcare policy.

More transparency for better care

During the press conference to present the new EU initiative, Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President and Commissioner for the European Way of Life, highlighted two key motives: On the one hand, the destigmatisation of mental problems. The European Commission intends to use EUR 18 million from the EU4Health programme for this purpose, mainly to support Member States in identifying and implementing best practices, communication activities and stakeholder project work. On the other, the important access to treatment is to be promoted by creating transparency about the assistance structures on site. "Everyone in need of help should know who to turn to," said Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides. Then he or she would also be helped. Given the reality of care in most Member States, this view is unlikely to be shared by all. Eurocadres, the European federation of trade unions representing professional and managerial staff, speaks of a "toothless initiative that is doomed to fail".