Brussels, 7 June 2023
Remarks by Vice-President Schinas:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, we are here to present a comprehensive, anthropocentric approach to mental health.
Mental health is Europe silent epidemic. An ever-worsening situation that does not happen in a vacuum, a problem that concerns us all and which is conditioned by personal and external factors. A suffering that has been underrepresented in the last few years.
This initiative is coming at a very important time for our citizens. Let’s face it. People have recently undergone, and are still encountering, a number of challenges shaking their everyday reality, their expectations and their confidence in the future. –From the Covid-19 pandemic, to the war in Ukraine, the energy crises, climate change, the cost of living or radical shifts in the labour market – all these are examples of transformative stressors that cause anxiety, fear, distress, and increase mental health problems.
The figures speak for themselves.
– Mental health problems affect one in six people in the EU.
– Loneliness affects around one quarter of the population (22 to 26%) across the EU.
– And suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people (after road accidents). Behind these statistics lie millions of personal stories.
Addressing mental health is therefore both a social and an economic imperative. For all these reasons, non-action is simply not an option.
Our strategic initiative adopted today is an important step towards a healthier Europe, where the psychosocial needs of citizens, including the most vulnerable of our societies, are at the heart of our efforts. It is what defines us as European. Solidarity with and protection of people are core European values, key components of our European way of life.
In this communication, we have not stopped ourselves at diagnostics. We are coming with tangible action.
With this proposal, we are coming with the final masterpiece of the architecture of the European Health Union. Stella and I are proud of having led this effort on key files that have been there for all.
This is the last missing piece of the European Health Union.
It completes the sound legacy of our work in health, in protecting citizens and in boosting their resilience. And I firmly believe we should all be proud of what we have achieved together in the area of health, for people. A European success story that is not sufficiently told.
With this initiative, we want to bring mental health to the spotlight; stop mental health problems being considered taboo.
We recognise that – it is OK not to be OK, as we have seen in the video.
And for this, we are following a people-centric focus, working towards one basic, simple, and universal right to care for people suffering from mental health problems.
We recognise the need to destigmatize mental health. The second premise is that everyone in Europe who needs help or care to face mental health problems should have a universal right to care.
Concretely, we recognise 3 guiding principles that should apply to every EU citizen: prevention, treatment, and reintegration.
Because part of a healthy society must be that people know that there is help available if they are in distress.
To deliver on this universal goal, we do three things:
- We recognise that mental health problems are not solely a clinical issue and cannot be overcome within the health system alone. We are therefore calling for a cross-sector approach going beyond health policy.
- We are ambitious in terms of actions. For example, we commit to create an EU repository of key Member States’ services that guide people towards effective care (hotlines, help points, etc). We support the training of professionals and offer enhanced mobility opportunities across the EU. We also show solidarity with our Ukrainian friends, with a robust strand of support.
- And we are ambitious in terms of European funding. We have identified the total of €1.23 billion to put money where our mouth is.
This should not be seen as a silver European bullet. There is no happiness button, and not in Brussels. This initiative is the beginning of a journey. It puts mental health on par with physical health. And it sets high ambitions for the EU to help the most fragile and vulnerable in our societies. This is in line with the European Way of Life, where each person counts and should have a thriving life prospect.
Let me thank Stella Kyriakides, Nicolas Schmit, and all the colleagues, and representatives for Mental Health Europe here in the press room.
Now I will leave Commissioner Kyriakides to elaborate on our initiative.
Remarks by Commissioner Kyriakides:
Ladies and gentlemen,
We all have mental health.
Mental health is not only about disease or the absence of it.
It is also about wellbeing and experiencing positive emotions: it is about us, our lives, work, relationships, physical health, social environment, and human rights.
The song “Help!”, written by John Lennon in 1964, was described by the superstar songwriter himself as one of his most honest and genuine songs. It highlighted challenges with lyrics like “Help me if you can I’m feeling down, help me get my feet back on the ground”. And it ended by saying “we need to open up the door”.
That is what we are doing today, because we are highlighting the importance of mental health, and at the same time, we are asking people to seek help.
Today we are presenting yet another building block of a strong European Health Union, which can be no more, or no less, than a Union that places health as a priority for all its citizens. And there is no health without mental health.
Mental health challenges are not faced by certain groups or types of people. Anyone from any background can experience anxiety and depression, phobias and eating disorders, and it’s important that people with these symptoms come forward and ask for help.
It is important that parents reach out and seek help for their children. That children and adolescents seek help for themselves.
That we do not forget our elderly.
Even before the pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and rising living costs, tens of millions of EU citizens were living with mental health challenges.
And while numbers keep rising, many people across the EU still find it difficult to speak up and seek for help and find the answers they need.
They fear the stigma. We all speak out very easily about our physical health challenges, but hide the mental pain often felt. This is often interpreted as a sign of personal failure.
This must urgently change, because the long-term cost of inaction, primarily for people, but also for our economies is far greater.
To make this vision a reality, we have made over €1,2 billion in EU funding available for activities promoting mental health.
We have taken a comprehensive andholistic approach that begins with prevention and early intervention.
Prevention means building up resilience in adults and children and providing them with environments that will nurture their mental health and wellbeing. Early intervention can ensure timely support management and may prevent the worsening of well-being.
Today, available services are scattered and often not sufficiently known to those who need them.
This needs to change, and we are taking steps to do so.
For example, with the European Depression and Suicide Prevention Initiative, we will provide targeted support for those who need help.
With the support from stakeholders, we will also create a European Code for Mental Health to empower people to take better care of themselves, and their loved ones.
Secondly, as in almost all crises it is vulnerable groups, such as children, adolescents, young people, the elderly, refugees, displaced people, and migrants, that are suffering more than others.
We know that these last years with the pandemic have taken an especially high toll on our children and youth, with depression among young people having more than doubled.
In 2024, we will help build a child and youth mental health network and develop a prevention toolkit, showing how important it is for mental and physical health to go hand in hand.
We also need a safer and healthier digital space for children, as cyberbullying is far too common.
Under the Initiative Healthy Screens, Healthy Youth, we will give much stronger guidance on protection of minors in the digital world, and through the Horizon Europe Cancer Mission we will be providing young cancer survivors with a platform to help them build up their mental health.
Mental health support will be given to those affected by conflicts, such as displaced people in Ukraine, and particularly children, who have seen their lives literally torn apart by the horrors of war.
Before concluding, I would like to thank primarily the Vice-President for all the support, and also our colleague Commissioner Schmit and his team for the excellent cooperation and to say a few words on the importance of mental health at work.
We know that stress and burnout contribute to around half of all lost working days. This is really not acceptable. Going to work should not make you ill.
We want to raise awareness and work with companies to improve prevention, which is why we will present an EU-level initiative on psychosocial risks, after doing a peer review and consulting social partners.
We will also support EU-wide awareness raising campaigns by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), including on Safe and healthy work in the digital age, and on psychosocial risks and mental health at work, with a focus on new and overlooked occupations.
We will also continue to support social partners in their endeavour to negotiate a new agreement on telework and the right to disconnect.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We often say it is ok not to be ok. I will add a phrase to that: speak up, and make your whispers into a shout. If you do this, someone will hear you!