Time for a check-up: The state of mental healthcare in Europe

Woman sitting on the Thames embankment in London, United Kingdom, September 2018. Banner image: Shutterstock/Wei Huang

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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Health has been the world’s overriding concern and priority for over a year, and the on-going crisis has left no doubt: there is no health without mental health. Wellness isn’t limited to physical health alone but is also firmly rooted in mental well-being. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has exerted pressure on our national healthcare systems to an unprecedented degree, prompting the WHO to report that funding for essential mental health services had been disrupted in 93% of Member States. This only aggravates the spread of the “silent parallel pandemic”, as researchers call the current spike of mental health issues, primarily among young people. Anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders are not addressed with the urgency and support systems needed.

The mental health effects of the pandemic are still incalculable. They will extend far beyond the COVID-19 era. As this issue is weighing heavily in current policy debates, Women Political Leaders (WPL), with the support of Centene Corporation, has published a report entitled Time for a check-up: the state of mental healthcare in Europe to provide both an evidence-based overview and a deeper understanding of the state of mental healthcare in Europe today. How is Europe equipped to fight the silent pandemic, which, unlike COVID-19, seems to affect younger people much more severely than older people?

Find more about the OECD Virtual Event: Addressing the hidden pandemic: The impact of COVID on mental health, taking place on 15 April 2021

Find more about the OECD Virtual Event: Adressing the hidden pandemic: The impact of COVID on mental health, taking place on 15 April 2021

The report’s aim is to provide data that can be useful for improving national health systems, by prompting decision makers to answer a question: How can we ensure that mental health support is available and accessible to all, both during this crisis and over the long-term? WPL surveyed political leaders, policy makers, and healthcare professionals in 28 countries across Europe to design a quantitative mapping of the state of mental healthcare based on five parameters: Awareness, Availability Accessibility, Acceptability, and Affordability.

The insights collected confirm that not only has COVID-19 disrupted both primary and emergency healthcare, it has heavily impacted specialised care by exacerbating the existing gap in resources invested in mental as opposed to general healthcare. This has worsened the situation of persons affected by mental health disorders and their loved ones, as they are today unable to receive the specialised support they need.

Specialised personnel and care have in many cases been redirected to COVID-19 patients, thus limiting assistance around mental healthcare disorders. Survey respondents say that there is an unprecedented competition between these two urgent priorities. It underlines the need for funding specifically directed at the expansion of affordable and available ad-hoc services, along with specialised training for medical staff and the development of educational outreach programmes for schools.

Time for a check-up: the state of mental healthcare in Europe by Women Political Leaders
Source: Women Political Leaders

Awareness and acceptability of mental health disorders are crucial to building resilient and inclusive healthcare systems. Destigmatising these disorders is a prerequisite to fostering more effective care in general. In the expert estimation of WPL’s survey respondents, only through joint efforts by government institutions and civil society (at national as well as local levels) can the stigma around mental health disorders be addressed.

As the report’s findings suggest, civil society can be a key ally in promoting informative and educational communication strategies that make use of institutional channels. These efforts can also be served through the use of less-structured, more-approachable channels such as social media.

Read Women Political Leaders' report Time for a check-up: the state of mental healthcare in Europe 

“Time for a check-up: the state of mental healthcare in Europe” can be read in its entirety here, on the Women Political Leaders website.

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Silvana Koch-Mehrin

President and Founder, Women Political Leaders

Silvana is the President and Founder of Women Political Leaders (WPL), the worldwide network of women Politicians. WPL is an independent, non-partisan and not-for-profit foundation that aims to increase both the number and influence of women in political leadership. Silvana served as Vice-President of the European Parliament (2009-2011) and Member of the European Parliament (2004-2014). Before her time in politics, she founded and ran a public affairs consultancy in Brussels, which later merged with a larger US firm. She also worked as Senior Special Advisor for EY and as Senior Policy Advisor for GPLUS Europe. In addition to her work for WPL, Silvana serves on the board of the Council of Women World Leaders, the network of female Presidents and Prime Ministers. She is also a member of the European Leadership Network (ELN), a Board Director of the Social Progress Imperative and member of the Global Advisory Network of Apolitical Academy Global. Since 2016, Silvana has been representing the European Union in the Executive Committee of W20, an official engagement group of the G20. In 2018 and 2019, she was ranked as one of the 100 most influential persons in gender equality by Apolitical. Silvana is a Young Global Leader Alumni of the World Economic Forum. She lives in Brussels, Belgium with her three kids and their Irish father.