Mental health is an underestimated issue for Europe’s societies and improving our mental health systems in terms of service coverage, accessibility, and quality is crucial. With that in mind, the European Joint Action on Mental Health and Wellbeing has come up with an European Framework for Action on Mental Health and Wellbeing, which was developed over a three-year period from 2013 to 2016 and provides a framework for rethinking our approach to mental health services.

On 21-22 January 2016, the Joint Action on Mental Health and Wellbeing concluded with a final conference in Brussels, which brought together representatives from, t local, national, and international organisations with responsibility or expertise in mental health, as well as private sector firms and civic society organisations, who contributed to the discussion around policy recommendations and their implementation. Kim Nikolaj Japing and Alfonso Lara Montero represented ESN from the Secretariat as well as members from Dublin City Council (Ireland), Tartu Social Services (Estonia), and the Andalusian Regional Ministry of Equality, Health and Social Policies (Spain).

ESN participated in three workshops, which looked at community care for people with severe mental disorders, collaboration between the education, health, and social sectors for better mental health in schools, and the development of a Mental Health in all Policies approach.

Improving community care for people with severe mental disorders

One session analysed the reinforcement of community based services for people with severe mental disorders in the transition to community care where local social services play a key role. Speaking to the audience, ESN Policy Director Alfonso Lara Montero highlighted that it was key that the framework for action adopted a life cycle approach and promoted an integrated approach to the delivery of community based services. In that respect, a key element of such an approach is the implementation of close cooperation between primary health and social services in the form of joint needs assessments and inter-disciplinary teams.

Strengthening the collaboration between education health, and social policies

Mental health in schools is a sensitive issue, as schools may act either as a risk or as a protective factor in relation to a student’s mental wellbeing. Martine de Clerck and Isabelle de Schrijver from the ADOCARE programme pointed at the prevalence of mental health problems among adolescents and the endurance of mental health problems with an early onset. They emphasised the need for stronger promotion and prevention in order to address adolescents’ struggles with mental health problems.

Establishing a Mental Health in all Policies (MHiaP) approach

The MHiaP approach seeks to broaden mental health across areas like employment, education, social services, and health. According to the Situation Analysis and Policy Recommendations in Mental Health in All Policies, there should be a stronger acknowledgement of the MHiaP approach. Prof. Arne Holte from Norwegian Institute of Public Health presented the Public Health Act implemented in Norwegian politics in the spirit of ‘Mental health in all we do’. At the local level, one of the implications is to equip local authorities with the tools to improve in their local community. Among the tools should be an own psychologist, of which each local authority should have one by 2020.

Conclusion

The European Social Network (ESN) has contributed to the development of the recommendations in the framework of the JA. The discussion on the recommendations is hopefully the beginning of future work to which ESN would like to contribute. A concrete milestone in the implementation journey could be the creation of a timeline along which national governments could turn the recommendations into a living reality.

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