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Blog Post | Last updated: 12 Jun 2023

European mental health on the spotlight

Last week was marked by two important events focused on improving mental health of Europeans: a Communication on a new Comprehensive approach to mental health and a High Level conference on Loneliness.

Back in 2022, during her State of the Union Address, President Ursula von der Leyen announced a new Commission initiative on Mental Health. Following up, and setting the frame for policy making on Mental Health, the European Commission launched, on the 7th of June, a Communication on a new Comprehensive approach to mental health. With 20 flagship initiatives and funding opportunities worth €1.25 billion, this approach is the first and important step in putting mental health on par with physical health and ensure a cross-sectoral approach to mental health issues. Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 1 in 6 Europeans were affected by mental health problems, with the burden of inaction amounting to €600 billion every year.

The EU action, as outlined in the Communication, will focus on the guiding principles of prevention, treatment, and reintegration. The Communication also outlines the broad pillars of action and policies, including promoting good mental health through prevention and early detection, investment in training and capacity building that reinforces mental health across policies and improves access to treatment and care, ensuring good mental health at work by raising awareness and improving prevention, protecting children and the young during the most vulnerable and formative years, addressing vulnerable groups (e.g. older adults, people in economic or social difficulties, migrant or refugees) by providing targeted support to those most in need, and leading by example at the international level.

The JRC actively contributed to the Communication by providing ad-hoc scientific policy support to DG SANTE on topics like social prescription polices, links between lifestyle determinants (diet, physical inactivity and harmful alcohol use) and mental health problems, or early detection methods in the EU, based on previous work on mental health in K4P’s Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Knowledge Gateway. As with all Knowledge Gateway content, the briefs on prevention of dementia, depression in adults, children and adolescents, and work-related stress, provide independent and up-to date information in a short, impactful and concise manner, focusing on the aspects most relevant to policy makers. (e.g. definitions, prevalence,  risk factors, disease and socio-economic burden, and policy recommendations or implemented policies).  

In addition, complementing the Communication outreach and informal consultation activities, the JRC organised a 2-day  scientific expert workshop entitled ‘Crowdsourcing knowledge on depression mechanisms: From risk factors to treatment’ in April 2023. The workshop was designed to crowdsource transdisciplinary mechanistic scientific knowledge on depression, create a network of high-level experts, and respond to existing policy needs. The workshop featured various presentations from COM (JRC, SANTE, RTD, HADEA) and top international experts (including OECD and academia).

Moreover, the JRC has also done significant work on the issue of loneliness, culminating with a High-Level conference to launch the findings of the first EU-wide survey and report on loneliness. The survey report presentation is particularly timely with the launch of the Communication on a Comprehensive Approach to Mental Health. Loneliness, the feeling of lacking meaningful social interactions, has been identified as a serious well-being and mental health concern and is linked to a number of factors, including poor health and low social connectedness. Loneliness may impede social cohesion and should be regarded as a social problem and addressed as such. The Pilot Project on Loneliness has involved gathering data on loneliness across the EU, synthesising and enhancing existing evidence, and exchanging on best practices on intervention measures to combat loneliness. The survey was conducted in 2022 on more than 25.000 respondents and contains crucial data on the incidence of loneliness, its risk factors, and actions to tackle it. You can find more about the JRC’s work on loneliness in the dedicate site (https://joint-research-centre.ec.europa.eu/loneliness_en).

In addition, HELIOS, an exploratory JRC research project,  is examining, in an interdisciplinary way, how the presence of nearby nature and green space, as well as the quality of the living environment, affects our mental health and well-being. This relationship is studied within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The project is a collaboration between JRC units across different directorates, including F (mental health), D (green space and environment quality), S (citizen engagement), and C (air pollution), as well as the University of Verona. In parallel, citizen engagement research investigates to what extent the pandemic has changed the perception of citizens on mental health, the quality of their living environment and their interrelation. Project report and publications expected for Q3 2023. 

The JRC will now continue its research on mental-health related topics and stands ready to support policy actions and work streams following up from the Communication.