Health experts and policymakers have called on governments to step up and take the pandemic as a wake-up call to adopt impactful mental health policies, as outlined in a new report.
“A mental health emergency is spreading across the European Union. It is a silent pandemic”, warned MEP Dolors Montserrat (EPP), member of the European Parliament’s ENVI Committee, at the launch event of the report on Thursday (7 October).
In 2018, 84 million people were affected by mental health problems and it’s safe to say that these numbers are unlikely to drop any time soon.
“We don’t know where and when these numbers will stop growing”, said Montserrat, while Cécile Rouillon, policy officer at the European Commission’s DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, highlighted that mental health issues have been “exacerbated by the COVID crisis”.
Pierluigi Antonelli, chief executive of Angelini Pharma, a leading international group in healthcare and one of the co-authors of the report, said that “the COVID-19 recovery efforts provide a crucial opportunity to improve Europe’s mental health services and policies by putting brain health at the top of the European Public health agenda”.
Women and children particularly affected
The report highlights that certain groups of people have been more affected by the fall out of the pandemic: women, in particular, suffered a heavy burden from the pandemic, with 83% of women reporting that it negatively impacted their mental health compared with only 36% of men.
The report said the pandemic particularly affected pregnant women, women in the postpartum period, or those experiencing trauma, such as a miscarriage or abuse from intimate partners.
In what may not come as a huge surprise, the report found that women suffering from mental health disorders also experienced gender inequality. For example, in Spain, they received 14% lower wages than men on equal terms, Montserrat highlighted.
But it wasn’t only women who were particularly affected by the pandemic – the report also pointed out that one in three children who drop out of school also have a mental health condition. This figure could point to a possible link between the two.
“According to a UNICEF report, nine million adolescents in Europe, aged 10 to 19, live with a mental disorder”, said Rouillon.
In France, UNICEF launched a national consultation for the report, asking about the mental health of more than 25,000 children aged between six and 18.
The results show that 76.6% of respondents say they are sometimes sad or blue, while 53.3% say they don’t feel like doing anything, and 64.2% say they have lost confidence.
“Children and teenagers are the most affected, with a severe impact on their psychological development,” Montserrat stressed.
Offering up Spain as an example, she pointed out that in the first quarter of 2021, the country registered twice as many child psychiatric emergencies as in the previous period, particularly cases of anxiety, disorders, depression, self-harm, and suicide attempts.
As it currently stands, the total cost of mental health disorders, in terms of loss of productivity and health and social care expenses, is pegged at around 4% of EU GDP, or a whopping €600 billion, according to Montserrat.
But across Europe, only up to 5% of the total government health expenditure is allocated to mental health. “Values range from 3% in Poland, 3.5% in Italy, 4.2% in Spain and 5.4% in Denmark”, the report details.
When it comes to the ability to respond to the mental healthcare needs of the society, it appears that Northern and Central European countries perform better than Eastern countries. This is despite the risks of “widespread scarcity of updated data and possible distortions” linked to misreporting and under-reporting in some countries.
The report aimed to provide a comprehensive and holistic approach. “We really hope it can be a starting point for governments and EU institutions, not only health policies, to check and to control many indicators in different areas”, said Daniela Bianco, head of healthcare at the consultancy firm The European House – Ambrosetti, who also co-authored the report.
Cécile Rouillon stressed that “a human rights perspective is really essential in the design, the implementation and the evaluation of policies and programmes that address mental health and psychological well being”. She called for “removing the barriers in education, employment and increasing access to services, health and care systems”.
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According to a Commission’s draft working programme seen by EURACTIV.com, the revision of the legislative framework for pharmaceuticals and medicines for children and rare diseases will drop the curtain on next year’s Commission agenda as they are expected to be adopted in December 2022.
Other key points of the 2022 policy agenda will be the proposal to update recommendations to member states on cancer screening, the revision of the existing binding occupational exposure limit value for cancer-causing asbestos, and the launch of new hazard classes for a number of hazardous properties, including one dedicated to endocrine disruptors.
-On Tuesday (12 October) the European Parliament’s health committee (ENVI) adopted its recommendations on the implementation of the EU’s pharmaceutical strategy. Their recommendations focused on patient-centred health policies and accessible and affordable medicines together with a competitive, innovative, climate-neutral pharmaceutical industry.
MEPs highlighted the need for increasing the affordability and availability of medicines and insisted that the Commission, member states and the European Medicines Agency should develop an early warning system for medicine shortages.
-Health ministers together with health commissioner Stella Kyriakides are holding today (12 October) an informal meeting to discuss a resilient and strong European Health Union.
The meeting is about finding common solutions to increase the availability and accessibility of medicines and to improve the response and preparedness to cross-border health threats.-On Monday (11 October), MEPs in the European Parliament’s budget committee voted in favour of the draft resolution following and accompanying the vote on the budgetary figures of 28 September, underlining the need to support the building of a strong European Health Union and the COVAX programme.
-The European Union’s public health agency is proposing a revision of COVID-19 rules which could ease travel for vaccinated people and drop a colour-coded system that limits trips to and from areas with high levels of infections.
– Lawmakers in the European Parliament adopted a report to protect people with disabilities on Wednesday (6 October). MEPs agreed there is still a lot to be done as disabled people continue to face many barriers and discrimination across the bloc.
On 8 October, the World Health Organisation published a new mental health atlas 2020. It outlines the “worldwide failure” to provide people with the mental health services they need at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a growing need for mental health support.
It emphasises that the increased attention given to mental health in recent years has yet to result in a scale-up of quality mental services that is aligned with needs.
On 7 October, The World Health Organisation (WHO) launched their strategy to achieve global COVID-19 vaccination by mid-2022 to help end the disparity in vaccination rates between richer and poorer countries.
The new strategy outlines a plan for achieving the WHO’s targets to vaccinate 40% of the population of every country by the end of this year and 70% by mid-2022.
On Monday (11 October), the WHO launched its special report on climate change and health, detailing 10 recommendations and calling authorities to act with urgency on the current climate and health crises. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said that “the same unsustainable choices that are killing our planet are killing people”.
The WHO report was launched alongside an open letter, signed by over two-thirds of the global health workforce – 300 organisations representing at least 45 million doctors and health professionals worldwide – calling for climate action to avert “biggest health threat facing humanity”.
Epidemiologist warns COVID situation in Serbia is the worst in Europe. Serbia is one of the states hardest hit by the virus since the pandemic broke out, said the country’s leading epidemiologist, Dr Zoran Radovanović. (betabriefing.com and EURACTIV.rs)
Italy mulls dismantling far-right movements. A protest against anti-COVID measures in Rome with 10,000 demonstrators resulted in the Roman headquarters of the national labour union CGIL being attacked, 38 injured police personnel, and the arrest of 12 protesters. (Viola Stefanello | EURACTIV.it)
Albanian students delayed because of low vaccine uptake. The Albanian government has postponed the start of the academic year for students by one week, until 18 October, due to a lack of uptake in COVID-19 vaccines. (Alice Taylor | exit.al)
Romania’s COVID-19 death toll hits new record. The fourth pandemic wave is hitting Romania hard, with the highest death toll registered on Wednesday with 331 COVID-19 casualties. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)
Spain’s COVID-19 rate drops to low risk prompting regions to lift restrictions. Some 21 million people in Spain are free from COVID-19 restrictions as the incidence rate in the country fell to ‘low risk’ for the first time in fifteen months. (EuroEFE.EURACTIV.es)
Vaccinated Greeks to have more ‘privileges’ as COVID-19 death toll steadily increases. Health Minister Thanos Plevris is expected to announce new benefits for vaccinated people, government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou has confirmed. According to information leaked Monday night, this would include no longer being bound by existing restrictions. The country is on the verge of passing 15,000 COVID-19 related deaths since the start of the pandemic. /Kostas Argyros | EURACTIV.gr)
Portugal’s over-65s to soon get COVID-19 booster shots. The third COVID-19 vaccine will start being administered to people aged over 65 from 11 October, the Assistant Secretary of State and Health, António Lacerda Sales, has announced. “We will start with the most vulnerable groups, namely the residential care facilities for the elderly, the group over 80 years old, and then we will go in a decreasing manner until the group equal to or greater than 65 years, as was done in the first phase of vaccination,” he said. Portugal is already administering an additional dose to immunosuppressed patients. (Célia Paulo | Lusa.pt).
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