Good mental health is an essential part of life; just like good physical health. Advice on how to look after our bodies forms a constant stream of information but for too long what we do, who we turn to and what we take for our mental well-being has been in the shadows.
Greater awareness and willingness to talk about mental health has ushered in a new era understanding and acceptance and broken through some layers of public stigma but there are many challenges ahead.
The societal impact of poor mental health is forbidding: 25% of the European population suffers from depression or anxiety and neuropsychiatric disorders account for 19.5% of the disease burden for EU countries while the cost of mood disorders and anxiety reaches €170 billion a year. 1
The personal impact is devastating: lives ruined, families fractured and potential snuffed out. Up to 50% of chronic sick leave is due to depression and anxiety 1 and no country is immune from suicide. The World Health Organisation launched a suicide prevention campaign in 2019 after recording that 128,000 in Europe take their own life every year. 2
Mental health issues are complex with powerful influences such as family, employment, poverty, discrimination and access to healthcare involved.
Mental Health Europe, the largest independent network organisation representing mental health users, professionals and service providers across Europe, is campaigning for mental health to have parity with physical health across funding and provision and it states: “We advocate for positive mental health and wellbeing and for the rights of people living with mental ill health. We raise awareness to end mental health stigma and discrimination.” 3
We are all likely to suffer some form of mental ill-health in our lives but for many it is anything but a passing phase as it comes with a profound and enduring effect on happiness, the ability to form and sustain relationships and have productive lives.
The impact starts at an early age and continues throughout life with research showing that children and teenagers with poor mental health are likely to do worse at school, have reduced employment potential. Adults become less productive at work and are more likely to have relationship problems while the elderly are more likely to be isolated when they experience mental ill health.4
The compelling reasons to destigmatise mental health and improve provision cross all age, gender, socio-economic and geographical boundaries.
Growing evidence and awareness of the burden of mental health problems in Europe have generated improvements but the personal and economic fall-out are still a blight on society and national health systems.
Mental and physical health are partners in our lives and each can have a detrimental or positive impact on the other. The World Health Organisation defines health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’5
This definition has remained unchanged since 1948.
Research has shown that 30% of people with a long-term physical health condition also have depression or anxiety. The impact of poor mental health on physical illness was estimate to cost the NHS in England an annual €9 billion 6 – that magnitude of cost is replicated around Europe and forms a significant part of the total €600 billion across the 28 EU countries.7
- World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe. Facts and Figures. Accessed February 2021. https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/noncommunicable-diseases/mental-health/news/news/2012/10/depression-in-europe/depression-in-europe-facts-and-figures
- World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe. WHO launches campaign on suicide prevention. Accessed February 2021. https://www.euro.who.int/en/media-centre/events/events/2019/09/who-launches-campaign-on-suicide-prevention
- Mental Health Europe. Our Mission. Accessed February 2021. https://www.mhe-sme.org/who-we-are-2/#1506698796176-ec64e16f-8e5b
- OECD/European Union. Promoting mental health in Europe. November 2018. Accessed February 2021. https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/health_glance_eur-2018-4-en.pdf?expires=1611771169&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=82CAA689890C8B4CDD6F862F9C004FFC
- World Health Organization. What is the WHO definition of health? Accessed February 2021. https://www.who.int/about/who-we-are/frequently-asked-questions
- The King’s Fund. Mental Health: Time to Think Differently. Accessed February 2021. https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/projects/time-think-differently/trends-disease-and-disability-mental-physical-health
- Mental health problems costing Europe heavily. Accessed February 2021. https://www.oecd.org/newsroom/mental-health-problems-costing-europe-heavily.htm