Reducing staff shortages, increasing funding and a dedicated directive are key measures to improve the mental health of the European population

EESC opinion on Measures to Improve Mental Health - public hearing, Adam Rogalewski, EPSU

(13 April 2023) EPSU participated at the public hearing on the EESC opinion on Measures to Improve Mental Health. As part of their program for their upcoming presidency of the Council of the European Union, Spain identified mental health as a key priority. To that end, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is preparing an opinion requested by the Spanish Presidency on Measures to Improve Mental Health. At the public hearing organised by the Committee on 11 April, EPSU was represented by Adam Rogalewski, Policy Officer leading the health and social services sector of EPSU.

Opening the meeting Pilar Aparicio, Director General of Public Health, Spanish Health Ministry, stressed among other things that mental health needs to be understood holistically, and policymakers need to comprehend how different factors intertwine and affect mental health. Europe has the ability to generate national and union-wide solutions by sharing best practices and setting comprehensive guidelines. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health in the political agenda and policymakers are more aware of the issues relating to mental health than before. Furthermore, the Conference on the Future of Europe in 2022 has channelled the voice of some of the vulnerable groups in society to the ears of policymakers.

Adam Rogalewski emphasised the difficulties that health and social care workers faced both before and during the pandemic, with one of them being growing staff shortages. According to moderate estimates there are already 2 million workers missing in health and social care sector. EPSU’s representative emphasized that due to staff shortages, healthcare workers are not able to properly look after the mental health of the European population, and lack of personnel also resulted in additional stresses for the workers themselves (so called ethical stress). He added that we already have existing initiatives at the European Level to address mental health, and one of them is the proposed Directive on Psychosocial Risks Factors, presented by the European Trade Unions Federations under Time to End Stress in the EU Campaign. Mental health is an Occupational Safety and Health Issue, and this is precisely where the EU has competences, with the first directive being established already in 1989. We need to pay more attention to workplaces, and we need to start by preventing mental health problems there through the EU OSH legislation. Prevention is therefore crucial for improving the well being of the European population. Adam Rogalewski concluded that there is a need for increased and proper funding for mental health services across Europe. We urgently need to find the money to improve this neglected part of the healthcare sector.

Finally, participants of the hearing agreed that mental health services must be accessible to everyone, everywhere, and more funding is required. To find solutions, an inter-sectoral, holistic approach is needed which identifies the vulnerable groups and dedicates special attention to them, taking into account how different factors and differing influences affect mental health.