French government announces support scheme for mentally vulnerable

French Junior Minister for Disability Issues Sophie Cluzel wearing a face mask leaves Elysee Palace after the weekly cabinet meeting in Paris, France, 29 July 2020. EPA-EFE/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON [CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON/EPA]

In a drive to broaden health benefits, France announced new aid to guarantee the rights of people with intellectual disabilities as a two-day World Mental Health Summit opened in Paris on Tuesday (5 October).

The government wants to extend the Handicap Compensation Benefit (Prestation de Compensation du Handicap, PCH) scheme, which has so far been reserved for people with a physical disability. The PCH will now be open to people with psychological or mental health problems, with a cognitive disorder or a neurodevelopmental disorder.

These people will be able to have an assistant to help carry out tasks in their daily lives, such as shopping or dealing with administrative formalities. The aim is to “put an end to discrimination in access to rights” and “guarantee participation in social life”, Sophie Cluzel, the secretary of state for people with disabilities, said in a press release.

The scheme will first be tested in the three departments, Ardennes, Gironde, and Vosges, before being implemented throughout France next February.

This announcement, long called for by associations and families, came during the third world summit on mental health, which is taking place in France, after London in 2018 and Amsterdam in 2019, and focuses on the rights of people in vulnerable situations.

High-level participants at the 2021 edition of “Mind our rights, now!” included Health Minister Olivier Véran, Cluzel, and Roxana Maracineanu, minister delegate for sports.

Some twenty ministers from other countries will also be present, as well as the UN, UNICEF, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and more than 2,000 participants.

“There is a real movement of interest and enthusiasm for this meeting in Paris,” said Frank Bellivier, ministerial delegate for mental health and psychiatry.

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“Bringing mental disability out of invisibility”

Two fields of action will be studied: strategies to limit practices that infringe on the rights of people in a vulnerable mental state, and the development of tools to help these people assert their rights. The issue of mental health within overall health will also be studied.

Sophie Cluzel’s office said it was “very sensitive” about this issue and wanted to “bring mental disability out of invisibility”.

Cluzel herself explained: “The health care system can be distant for people in vulnerable mental situations. We need to develop the “go towards”: we need to create circuits, a medical community, to go towards these people”.

The exchanges scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday should enable the participants to reflect on solutions to facilitate the accompaniment of people in vulnerable situations towards full autonomy.

“This summit is part of an international desire to exchange” and “find innovative solutions”, said the health minister’s office.

Together, Olivier Véran and Sophie Cluzel’s offices want to see “more global inclusion” of people suffering from mental health problems in France, in areas such as employment, leisure, family life, public transport and housing.

In the coming months, Véran aims to take mental health issues beyond France’s borders and wants to take advantage of the upcoming French presidency of the EU Council starting in January 2022 to sensitise the European Commission to the issue of mental health rights.

“The upcoming French presidency commits us to putting this issue collectively on the European and international agenda,” his office concluded.

Mental health crisis – a ticking time bomb.

Europe is on verge of a mental health crisis. The devastating impacts of COVID-19 have taken a further toll on people’s mental health and well-being. As we build back our economies and societies, it is crucial to put brain health at the top of the agenda of our recovery efforts.

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