On 30 October, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) organised a public hearing to discuss the body’s initiative to set 2014 as the European year of mental health. Considering the impact the current economic climate has on the population’s mental health and well-being, there is a clear need to raise awareness on this topic.
The hearing was divided in two sessions. The first one provided participants with an overview of the situation of mental health in Europe along the following lines:
mental health is closely related to poverty and vice versa;
stigmatisation and discrimination remain very present;
the importance of social relations to diminish the impact of mental conditions;
de-institutionalisation versus "re-institutionalisation" that is happening in certain EU countries;
patients’ organisations have a crucial role to play.
According to the latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO), from 3 to 4% of GDP loss is attributed to mental health related problems in the European Union countries.
The second part of the meeting focused on mental health and the workplace. In the UK, nearly half of all absenteeism can be attributed to mental health problems which are estimated to cost £1035 per employee every year. The experience shared from UK-based organisations gave participants a better picture of protective (a healthy prenatal and childhood environment, a healthy workplace and living, healthy lifestyles) and risk factors triggering off the risk of developing/aggravating mental health conditions.
While participants agreed that generally, work is positive for people’s mental health and well-being, they also pointed out that further measures are needed to improve the current employment situation of people with mental health problems, such as stronger anti-discrimination law and, greater encouragement of people with mental health conditions back into the labour market. Lack of political will was highlighted as the main reason for measures and/or regulations not being moved forward faster.
Having 2014 as the European year of mental health would be the opportunity for decision makers to realise how widespread, damaging and costly mental health problems are and to take long-awaited actions to combat the continuing stigmatisation and discrimination of people with mental health problems.
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