Today is World Mental Health Day. But what is mental health?

Mental health is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “a state of well-being in which an individual can realize his or her own potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and make a contribution to the community.” Conditions such as stress, depression, and anxiety can all affect mental health and disrupt a person’s routine.

How’s the situation within the European Union?

In the EU, four in 100 people have been diagnosed with depression, five in 100 with anxiety. Yet national public health care systems often don’t provide adequate treatment, according to an investigation by the Spanish Newsroom Civio, within the European Data Journalism Network.
There are incredibly long waiting lists, high fees and bureaucratic obstacles: In many EU countries, mental health treatment is inaccessible or inadequate for the people who need it most – and it got worse during the Covid-19 pandemic.

What are the troubles?

Most people can’t even be diagnosed with a mental health disorder because they are afraid of being stigmatized as a psycho by the people around them. So, they rather try to sit it out, because they think eventually it will get better anyways. Those who finally take the step and seek professional help face very long waiting lists until they can start treatment. The average waiting time for psychological treatment differs in our European countries: In Austria you wait 2-8 months until you finally can meet a psychotherapist, in Germany it is half a year and longer. “To prevent mental illnesses from worsening or becoming chronic, it is important to start treatment as soon as possible,” said a spokesperson for the Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists in Germany.

My own experience:

From my own experience I can say that I was extremely lucky, that I could start my therapy for fighting depression within 3 weeks after my first call to my therapist. But it took me more than half a year understanding, that I need professional help. I did feel ashamed seeking professional help and at first it seemed an incredible high obstacle to talk to a stranger about how I feel and what triggers my depression. Here in Germany, I am very lucky, that my health insurance pays for my therapy, but if you don’t feel like waiting too long, you can pay it privately. 

Tremendous high costs for private psychological treatment

In my research for this blog, I found lots of examples of people in need for psychotherapy spending between 200 € – 400 € a month on their appointments – sometimes even on top of their usual insurance contributions. In Romania, a worker on minimum wage would have to work 18.5 hours to pay for a single session with a private psychologist at the average rate. And, in France, where public health care does not cover psychological treatment at all, a private consultation still costs over half a day’s labor at the minimum wage. “The private sector can be useful for people with high incomes, for people who are aware that they have a psychological problem, need help and can pay for it,” said Rodzinka, of Mental Health Europe. This leaves out a large share of people who need treatment and means that the system fails those who need it the most. So, people who are already facing a mental health disorder also need to face the financial aspect of being treated.

Costs coverage for pyschologists in the EU

What can we do?

We need to find a way to raise more awareness for people fighting mental health disorders and we need to stop stigmatizing people when they are struggling anyways, feeling ashamed, seeking for professional help.

European Liberals for Reform – Working group: Health

Are you interested in this topic? ELfR set up a working group for Health matters. You will find more information here.

World Mental Health Day – Fight the stigma!
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The opinions on this blog are of the authors themselves and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of ELfR.

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