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Brussels, 13 June 2008

Europe's mental health in the spotlight

Commissioner for Health Androulla Vassiliou launches the European Pact for Mental Health and Well-Being at the High Level Conference on Mental Health in Brussels today. This is the first conference to bring together ministers, experts, patients, health professionals, researchers and high profile personalities and other stakeholders to agree future joint actions to improve mental health in Europe. The Pact is a call for partnership action. It recognises the health, social and economic benefits of good mental health for all and the need to overcome the taboo and stigma still associated with mental illness. An estimated 11% of Europeans experience some form of mental illness each year. Such disorders can lead to suicides, with one person every 9 minutes committing suicide in the EU. To address this problem and to benefit from shared experience, ministers and experts from across Europe pledged to work together and focus on 5 key areas: prevention of suicide and depression; mental health in youth and education; mental heath in workplace settings; mental health in older people; combating stigma and social exclusion.

EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said: " Today, we in Europe, have raised our voices and spoken out about the devastating effect that mental illness has on society. This Pact is a symbol of our determination in Europe to take up the challenge and deliver action in our different areas of responsibility and across the health, education and labour sectors. We need to act in partnership because mental health concerns us all."

A call for partnership in action – The European Pact for Mental Health and Well-Being

The pact is a call for partnership in action. It is launched by the European Commission in collaboration with the Slovenian Presidency and the World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe. The Pact recognises the challenges in addressing mental health and suggests pooling knowledge from across the EU in order to develop commonly supported recommendations for actions in 5 key areas:

  • prevention of suicide and depression
  • mental health in youth and education
  • mental heath in workplace settings
  • mental health in older people
  • combating stigma and social exclusion

A series of 5 consensus documents have been produced in cooperation with national ministries, practitioners and researchers from several sectors. They highlight the current data, policies and state of the art on the subject, and will support the implementation of the Pact, and a series of thematic conference planned over the next 2-3 years.

Europe's Diversity – good practice can inspire others

Mental health policies and actions across EU-countries are diverse. For instance, suicide rates are among the highest worldwide in some Member States and among the lowest in others. They differ by the factor 12. Responses by Governments and Nongovernmental actors such as patient groups and businesses reflect their specific needs, but may also encourage and stimulate others in their actions.

Mental health in Europe – the facts

Depression is one of the most common and serious mental disorders. Data from western and southern EU Member States indicate a lifetime prevalence of major depression in 9% of adult European men and 17% of adult European women. The impact on quality of life can correspond to that of a severe physical illness, e.g. a severe stroke.

Suicide is a major cause of premature death in Europe, causing a total of 58,000 deaths in the EU in 2006, overtaking traffic accidents which caused 50,000 deaths in the same year. 90% of suicides are associated with mental disorders.

The economic costs of depression in the EU were estimated to be 235 EUR per inhabitant in 2004, or € 118 billion in the EU 25 and EFTA countries. Direct costs for health systems in Member States are high and create increasing challenges, but 65%, the majority of costs, occur outside of the health sector, in particular through work absenteeism, work disability and early retirement in the EU.

An estimated 50% of mental disorders have their onset during adolescence therefore organisations working with youth need to be equipped to recognise symptoms and react quickly.

In our ageing society there is a strong need to and plan for the increasing prevalence of mental illness in the elderly population both for age related mental illness such as dementia and depression due to weakened social support.


The Conference and Pact is a follow up to the consultation on the Green Paper on Mental Health, which was presented by the Commission in autumn 2005. More than 230 written contributions, including a European Parliament Resolution, and a number of consultation meetings showed strong support for enhanced EU efforts to raise the visibility of mental health as a priority and to create opportunities for exchange and cooperation in tackling common mental health challenges.

Website on mental health conference and links to the Pact and Consensus Papers:

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