Select Committee on European Union Fourteenth Report

FOREWORD—What this Report is about

In January 2005, the World Health Organization (WHO) convened a conference of health ministers to discuss mental health problems across Europe. The conference produced a Declaration recognising that mental health and mental well-being are fundamental to the quality of life and productivity of individuals, families, communities and nations. An Action Plan was drawn up to support this Declaration, and the European Commission was asked for support to take this forward.

The publication of the Commission's Green Paper, "Improving the mental health of the population: Towards a strategy on mental health for the European Union", in October 2005, was the first step in the Commission's response.

This Report brings together evidence relating to the Green Paper from a wide range of individuals and organisations.

Around one in four adult Europeans experience a mental health problem in any one year, often as a result of an anxiety disorder or depression, and sometimes as a result of a more severe disorder such as schizophrenia. There are also high rates of emotional and behavioural disorders among children and adolescents, and of mental health problems among older people. The impact on individuals and their families is enormous: in the United Kingdom alone, the cost to the economy is estimated at over £77 billion every year.

All too often, people suffering from mental health problems can experience social exclusion, stigma and discrimination. Many employers have low expectations of what people with mental health problems can achieve; and there are often barriers against such people engaging in community life. Basic human rights may also be denied to people with mental health problems.

The consensus among organisations in the UK, representing both service providers and service users, is that front-line services for the treatment of mental health problems should primarily be based in the community, but that hospitals still need to play an important role as specialist providers. Compulsory treatment or detention should only be used as a last resort where other alternatives have failed.

We urge a wider public recognition of the considerable body of evidence which indicates the substantial social and economic impact of mental health problems. Our view is that, for promoting better mental health and delivering better services, there is an important role for the EU to facilitate the exchange of information and best practice, alongside the more specialised roles of the WHO and of the legislative and policy-making responsibilities of national governments.

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