April 14. 2024. 7:22

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EU lawmaker: Mental health plan must address those ‘who suffer in silence’

Pain management should be included in the forthcoming Commission’s mental health strategy to relieve those “who are suffering in silence”, according to a socialist MEP, Alex Agius Saliba.

More than 150 million people in Europe live with a mental health condition in 2021, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which also acknowledged that COVID-19 contributed to worsening the situation.

The annual Health at a Glance report published in December 2022 by the European Commission together with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) rang the alarm bell on depression among young people in particular, which is more than doubled as half of young Europeans reported unmet mental health needs.

The EU executive is expected to address the topic this year in June in a proper mental health strategy already announced by Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen in her annual State of the Union address last September.

“Pain and mental health go very much hand in hand,” said Saliba at an event at the European Parliament on Tuesday (21 March), adding that pain management and good mental health are both a precondition for a proper quality of life.

According to the Societal Impact of Pain (SIP) platform, around 150 million people in Europe experience forms of chronic panic in their lives, with an increased risk for mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

Mental health disorders and chronic pain frequently co-occur due to overlapping biological pathways (the name for the interactions among molecules in a cell leading to a change in the same cell) and shared risk factors, including poverty, unemployment, high rates of manual labour, and lack of access to mental healthcare services.

“Often, the most vulnerable people are the ones who are more severely affected,” Saliba pointed out. “This is also very similar to those patients who are also stuck with pain. In many cases, they are suffering in silence”, he added.

Pain and mental health influence each other and can create a vicious cycle of disability, said the SIP platform and the European Pain Federation in their joint position paper ahead of the Commission’s mental health strategy proposal.

Both cause reduced quality of life, mobility, and social participation across the lifespan, the two organisations stressed in the paper.

The Maltese MEP then called on the Commission to consider ‘a specific pain dimension’ in the mental health initiative, also considering increased funding for research in this field.

The EU’s budget line for health spending, EU4Health, has already provided over €30 million in support for mental health over the past three years. Furthermore, €18 million have been earmarked in the Commission’s work programme for 2023 to support the new comprehensive approach to mental health in the EU.

The strategy is pencilled in June, EU health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides confirmed in a recent interview with EURACTIV and aims to be comprehensive and focused on all the different aspects of mental health.

“When we speak mental health, we need to understand that it encompasses everything from childhood to the elderly,” Kyriakides told EURACTIV.

She also stressed that it is important to understand that when talking about the health of an individual, physical and mental health together form a single entity.

“You need to have both working together in harmony to move forward with your life,” she said.

From mental health to medical devices: a lookahead into 2023

Since the COVID pandemic, the European Commission has presented a steady stream of health files to answer to the many health issues both within the EU and globally. This work is expected to continue in 2023.