World Mental Health Day conference: A EU comprehensive approach that prioritises sound mental health for all, Concert Noble, Brussels, 10 October 2023
Mr Vice-President of the European Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The 10th of October is World Mental Health Day and so it’s very good timing on the Commission’s part to organize a colloquium on this topic today, one that has been gathering momentum over recent years. This growing awareness can be attributed to increasing numbers of people suffering from certain pathologies linked with how we live nowadays as well as the different crises the world is currently facing.
The coronavirus pandemic changed everyday life dramatically for an extended period, with those long months of lockdown that prevented social interaction and permanently altered working life, normalizing working from home, something which has continued to some degree post-pandemic.
The Ukraine conflict has sensitized us to the mental health problems associated with armed conflicts, not just there but also in Africa and Asia: the mental health consequences of witnessing bloodshed, of being forced to leave one’s home and social structures behind, of families being separated, and often of sexual violence suffered especially by women and children.
The cost of living and the increased energy prices that we are currently experiencing worsen social inequality and more and more of our fellow citizens are feeling socially and financially vulnerable as a result.
Climate change across the world and the threats to biodiversity are a further source of uncertainty, anxiety and fears for future generations.
The ever more widespread use of digital technology in both our professional and our private lives, the influence of social media especially on children and young people have a mental health downside. Bullying, digital abuse such as revenge porn, premature access to inappropriate material will cause psychological damage and can even lead to suicide.
The fact that people are living longer also has mental health consequences: loneliness and depression among the elderly is starting to be recognized more, alongside neurological illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
And physical illnesses like cancer have a mental health dimension too, both for sufferers and their carers and loved ones.
Every one of these elements has a mental health impact: anxiety, depression, loneliness, suicidal feelings, professional burn-out, eating disorders, phobias, addictions, and more…
There is widespread recognition across the world of the existence and scale of these problems and there is agreement on the urgent need for action.
I can vouch for this personally, as I was in New York two weeks ago for the UN General Assembly and mental health was being addressed in several high-level side-events. The WHO has made it a priority but so have specialized agencies such as Unicef and HCR, building mental health into their objectives.
Back in 2015, health in general was already one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, but now it has been recognized that mental health is an integral part of physical health. Both mental and physical health are equally essential for the wellbeing of our citizens.
In my capacity of Advocate for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, I am strongly committed, as you know, to promoting mental health for all, but especially for women and girls.
However, mental health remains a complex area and there are still many gaps in our knowledge and understanding of it. Every comprehensive approach to mental health is especially welcome as we know that our response to these issues must be intersectional, cooperative, preventive, and inclusive. Let’s hope that our discussions today will contribute to building a healthier and more resilient society for all.