Mental health is a significant concern at the European level. While there are funding opportunities, there are also persistent inequalities between countries. How can these disparities be tackled?
Mental health is indeed a pressing public health concern in Europe. Despite promising funding opportunities, we must recognize disparities among regions and countries. To tackle these issues, a collective and strategic approach is essential. First and foremost, we must acknowledge and understand the unique challenges faced by each area. More than a one-size fit all, a tailored approach is required. We must dwelve into the root causes, ranging from cultural to economic factors.
Collaboration is key. European countries must share best practices, resources and expertise. By establishing a network of collaboration, we can leverage each nation’s strengths to uplift those facing greater challenges. This sense of solidarity will promote collective responsibility for the mental well-being of all European citizens.
Moreover, targeted funding mechanisms are crucial. We must design grants, subsidies, and incentives tailored explicitly to regions and populations experiencing the most significant mental health disparities. Lastly, we must address stigma through robust educational campaigns. Promoting awareness and understanding will create an environment where seeking help is accepted and encouraged.
Moving on to South-Eastern Europe, what are the characteristics of the mental health systems in this region, and how can their needs be addressed?
The South-Eastern Europe Health Network (SEEHN) is a political and institutional forum set up by the governments of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Moldova, Romania, Serbia and North Macedonia to promote peace, reconciliation and health in the region. In 2011, Israel became the 9th member state of the Network. The Network covers a region with a population of nearly 60 million in 2020. Excluding Israel, these countries witnessed a significant demographic decline of 6.3 million people (11.1%) from 2000 to 2020. The economic context is characterized by disparities between GDP growth and declining populations, suggesting complex factors like migration and an ageing population. This economic context is crucial as mental health is closely linked to socioeconomic conditions.
Mental health in the region faces challenges such as a higher stigma of mental illness, lack of systematic implementation of mental health policies, and non-transparent decision-making on resource allocation. SEEHN conducted a comprehensive study from 2000 to 2020 to address these needs. The results revealed disparities in mental health policies, quality assurance, financing, and workforce across SEE countries.
While progress has been made, there’s room for improvement. For example, our analysis found that mental health policies and legislation exist in most countries, but there are opportunities for enhancement, particularly concerning national suicide prevention programs.
Future efforts should focus on capacity building, quality assurance, harmonizing legislation with international standards, and fostering inter-sectoral cooperation. These strategies are crucial for effectively addressing the mental health needs of the populations in these countries.
What would be the essential principles of a European Strategy for mental health?
The recent initiative launched by the Commission of the European Union serves as an excellent example from which we can derive a sub-regional tailored strategy. This initiative prioritizes mental health equally with physical health through 20 flagship initiatives and EU funding of 1.23 billion EUR. The guiding principles are adequate and effective prevention, access to high-quality and affordable mental health care, and reintegration into society after recovery.
Adequate and effective prevention involves promoting good mental health through comprehensive initiatives such as a European initiative to prevent depression and suicide, a European Code for Mental Health, and the strengthening of brain health research. Access to high-quality and affordable mental health care requires significant investment in training and capacity-building, ensuring mental health is integrated into all policies, and improving access to treatment and care. Reintegration into society after recovery involves protecting vulnerable groups, especially children and young people, and leading by example internationally by raising awareness and providing quality mental health support in humanitarian emergencies.
This comprehensive approach addresses mental health in all policies to recognize multiple risk factors affecting mental health. Concrete actions will cover a wide range of guidelines and include efforts to promote good mental health, invest in training and capacity-building, ensure good mental health in the workplace, protect children and young people, address vulnerable groups, and lead by example internationally in mental health support during humanitarian emergencies.
AWARENESS AND EDUCATION
How could civil society be involved in preventing, combating, and managing mental health problems?
Civil society plays a crucial role in creating a supportive environment to address mental health challenges. Through awareness campaigns, educational initiatives, and advocacy, civil society can contribute significantly to breaking the stigma associated with mental health issues.
Civil society organizations can collaborate with healthcare professionals and policymakers to create accessible and inclusive mental health services. Promoting mental health literacy, providing resources for early intervention, and establishing support networks empower individuals and communities to address mental health challenges proactively.
Civil society’s engagement in policy advocacy ensures mental health remains a priority on the public agenda. By actively participating in developing and implementing mental health policies, civil society organizations can contribute valuable perspectives that consider the needs and concerns of diverse communities.
Additionally, fostering partnerships between civil society organizations and health professionals can lead to innovative community-based programs that address mental health challenges at the grassroots level.
Are there examples of national good practices that could be translated to the South-Eastern European region?
For more than 20 years the South-Eastern Europe Health Network (SEEHN) has been a key player in the mental health development in the region. Instruments like the Dubrovnik Pledge focused on strengthening social cohesion and mental health. The SEE ministries of health committed their governments to reform the old psychiatric hospital system as an essential component of their overall health system reform process. New community mental health centres were established to help people with mental health problems live better lives.
A dedicated Regional Health Center for mental health was also established in Bosnia and Herzegovina to accelerate change in the region. A critical mass of experts is now playing a crucial driving role in the mental health field and reform process.
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