New mental health strategy must involve everyone, EU Commissioner –

A mental health strategy, first announced by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, is on the agenda for next year, said Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, during a parliamentary plenary debate Tuesday (October 18).

Designed for the second quarter of 2023, the strategy mentioned in the State of the European Union address in September will be one of many health actions.

“We will take a holistic approach to mental health and other key initiatives that will emerge from the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE),” Šefčovič said, referring to findings from Citizens Engaged in CoFoE, who have took place in 2021 and 2022.

During the debate, Commissioner Stella Kyriakides Free some additional details on what the strategy might entail, noting that the work was already underway.

“First, we need to improve our understanding of mental health issues and prioritize prevention and promotion of better mental health,” she said.

Without giving further details, the Commissioner continued that they were helping Member States to reform mental health systems and had allocated more than €28 million to mental health actions under the EU4health program over the three last years.

“We need to improve access to mental health care, one of the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights,” she said.

Mental health problems have been increasing in several countries in Europe for many years, but this has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Children and young people are particularly affected. A non-binding report voted by Parliament in September said between 10 and 20% of children and young people faced mental health problems before the pandemic and multiple lockdowns, a figure that now stands at around 20 to 25%.

Furthermore, she pointed out that some countries have focused on mental health through the Resilience and Recovery Facility, but added that more attention is needed on the issue in our societies.

“We need the commitment of all the players in our societies in the fields of research, employment and the media. We need to show how business, sport and education can make a constructive contribution. We need to work with all member states, NGOs, health professionals and Parliament,” Kyriakides added, though he did not give more concrete examples of what this would entail.

In the ensuing debate, MEPs from all political backgrounds agreed on the need to act on mental health in many aspects of daily life.

“We desperately need to understand that mental health is about being proactive and preventative in our care and should never just focus on the existing and stressful cycle of reactive support,” urged MEP Maria Walsh, speaking at the name of the European People’s Party (EPP). , the largest political group in Parliament.

She added that the initiative should promote the well-being and protect the rights of people living with mental health problems while tackling “the stigma and discrimination they face on a daily basis”.

Asbestos, disability on the 2023 health agenda

Another expected proposal from the EU health executive is legislation on testing and recording asbestos in buildings due in the second quarter of 2023.

It comes from a Commission package presented in September, which included a communication “Towards a future without asbestos” and a proposal to revise the directive on working with asbestos so that workers can be better protected by a lower occupational exposure limit to asbestos.

Another legislative proposal will be a “European disability card” to help people with disabilities access services across borders, mainly in the areas of culture, sport and transport.

The Commission also wants to revise the legislation on the Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) in 2023 to further protect human health and the environment from the risks that chemicals can pose.

The revision of this legislative framework has already taken a long time and, given the complexity of the subject, it is almost certain that it will be debated by the legislators during the next legislature even if the Commission’s proposal were to be unveiled in time.

Finally, two non-legislative initiatives have been included. One is a revision of the Council recommendation on tobacco-free environments, to better protect EU citizens against passive smoking and to limit smoking in establishments. The other is to create a Council recommendation on vaccine-preventable cancers, such as human papillomavirus (HPV)-related cancers.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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