A comprehensive approach of mental health at EU level: our contribution


The pandemic and the consequences of the war in Ukraine have put the mental health of Europe’s population under strain and brought this issue to the forefront of the EU’s agenda. We took part in an EU consultation on mental health, in which we stressed the need for a human rights-based approach that takes into account the specificities and determinants of mental health across the life course.

The overall issue of mental health was reported as one of the major preoccupations of Europeans in the public consultation of the Conference on the Future of Europe in 2021. In response to it, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission in her Speech on the State of the Union on 14 September 2022 announced a new initiative on mental health, to be presented in 2023. And the European Commission launched in mid-January a call for evidence to gather the perspective of relevant stakeholders and feed in the future initiative. Given the importance of this issue among our members, we submitted a contribution.

Correlation to ageism, not to ageing

Our contribution welcomes the upcoming initiative of the European Commission on a comprehensive approach to mental health. We underline that, like any other individual, older people can face mental health problems or have psychosocial disabilities. But it is also important to bear in mind some specificities that can be critical in an ageing perspective, starting with ageism. The Global Report on Ageism (WHO, 2021) provides evidence on the correlation between ageism and poorer mental health:

  • It influences psychiatric conditions
  • Its associated with the onset of depression
  • It accelerates cognitive impairment
  • Ageist stereotypes in the media can have a negative impact on self-esteem, health, physical well-being, and cognitive performance of older people
  • And ageism also has detrimental effect on the provision of mental health care !

Our recommendations

Therefore, we call on the European Commission to release a strategy that will:

1- Be rooted in a human rights-based approach:

  • Ensuring the participation of persons with lived experience of mental health issues, including older people, to develop policies, initiatives, and practices on mental health is critical.
  • Including indicators and qualitative data to measure progress and move forward.
  • Making sure that support of mental health and access to mental health care is accessible to everyone, including the most disadvantaged and marginalised groups.
  • Paying attention to the wording to combat stigma and enhance mental health.

2- Take a life course perspective: to tackle accumulated inequalities across life and better support mental health. This accumulation of inequalities is somehow even stronger at an older age and implies a huge diversity among older persons which is often completely overlooked.

3- Adopt a psychosocial model, i.e. a model that takes into account the social determinants and structural barriers preventing mental wellbeing: for instance, environments play an important role in determining our physical and mental capacity across a person’s life course, including into older age. They are key to strengthen autonomy, independence and participation.

4- Mainstream mental health across all policies to ensure it is integrating in internal policies and external action of the EU.

We look forward to the proposal of the European Commission and will continue working with key partners, like Mental Health Europe, EPHA and EuroHealthNet on this issue.

For more information on AGE work on mental health, you may contact Julia Wadoux, julia.wadoux@age-platform.eu

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