October 10th 2019 was the day of the final conference of the Be RIGHT project, held in Brussels with over 40 people from all over Europe attending. The Be RIGHT project focuses on mental health so what day could be better to present the results than World Mental Health Day!
The final conference was a success. Afterwards, the majority of the participants attended a conference in the European Parliament for World Mental Health Day on this year’s topic; suicide prevention, hosted by Mental Health Europe, the EPP group and the S&D group in the European Parliament.
Mental health is a matter that affect all matters of our lives. Right now, there are 84 million people in the EU struggling with mental health issues, not counting the large number of unreported mental health issues. In total we talk about one in six Europeans dealing with mental health issues. Only in 2015, over 84 thousand people died due to mental health problems and suicide in Europe. Worldwide, suicide is the cause of over 800 thousand deaths every year according to the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP). For every suicide that is committed, there are twenty-five other attempts and countless with troubled thoughts. The World Health Organisation (WHO) affirms that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds globally. The causes leading to committing suicide for young people are often linked to social media bullying, academic stress, body shaming and other recent phenomenon’s associated with social media and image.
In her opening remarks, MEP Julie Ward from the UK stated: “stigma of mental health issues costs us (the EU, editor’s note) billions of Euros, and we are losing resources we could put to use in society”. Her argument was supported by MEP Sara Cerdas from Portugal who affirmed: “key to good mental health is through health promotion and talking about the issues. Listening and focusing on prevention and quicker treatment are ways to tackle mental health issues.” While suicide and suicide attempts are a major personal and family tragedy, the impact on health systems, social security, employment and productivity are also vast. Across the EU, lost income and employment due to death from mental health issues and suicide is estimated at €22 billion per year in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report Health at a Glance: Europe 2018.
“What do you do when your phone is about to die? You charge it. Why don’t do the same with your mental health? Recharge when you are feeling down or in trouble.” Roisin O’Donovan (Union of Students, Ireland)
The EU can no longer neglect the mental health of Europeans. In his presentation, European added value in suicide prevention, John Ryan from the European Commission Committee DG Sante, presented that 1,3% of the EU GDP is being spent on dealing with mental health. In 2008, the EU saw the adoption of a European pact to combat mental health issues and this is still a high priority. Emily Hewlett from OECD have researched countries’ spending on mental health and supported Ryan’s argument. She made an example of Denmark which is the top spender on dealing with mental health, spending 2% of their GDP on the issue, while countries like Norway and Finland spend 1,8% of their GDP each – all higher than the EU.
After personal testimonies from suicide attempt survivors Eef Verschaeve from Belgium and Timo Kallioaho from Finland, recommendations from several contributors to the conference were made.
- For youth to have a trusted person to discuss mental health and problems. Pay attention to kids and young people feeling more open to people from their same gender or how they feel about opening their feelings to the person that supports them.
- Increased support and funding for NGO’s and communities to tackle mental health issues.
- Mental health has to be supported in the workplace but also in schools.
- Development and implementation of national prevention plans and strategies:
- Encourage national governments in Member States to establish clear action plans and prevention strategies to tackle suicide and suicide attempts, ensuring wide cooperation of health and non-health actors.
- Invest in programmes targeted at families and high-risk groups (e.g. unemployed, migrants, LGBT, people with chronic diseases).
- Protect people with depression or a history of attempted suicide from being made redundant and support their return to work.
- More awareness-raising and education to fight stigma:
- Incorporate proven suicide prevention strategies into national health and education programmes.
- Promote responsible reporting on suicide events, including data quality and registration.
- Promote collaboration between educational and labour sectors for better public education and mental health education in schools, including promoting culture of openness and acceptance of diversity.
- Support dissemination of evidence-based information to decision makers and the general public.
- Increased exchange of good practices:
- Incorporate suicide prevention practices and screening into general healthcare.
- Restrict access to the means for suicide.
- Ease access to community support such as e-tools, helplines and drop-in centres in the time of crisis. Services must be able to deal with the multitude of factors – biological, psychological, social and cultural – that underlie suicidal ideation. They must value the lived experience of people, recognising them as experts in their own lives.
- Strengthening the communities:
- Promote mental health first aid training in communities for non-health workers.
- Encourage the organisation for self-help groups in local communities.
- Invest in integrated services bringing together all key actors, including (ex) users of mental health services, healthcare professionals, peers, police, community members and others.