With the likes of Farage, Gove and Johnson using scaremongering tactics to instil fear into British citizens, coupled with cries for us to make our “own laws” in a bid to preserve British sovereignty, it is easy for us to forget the many areas where shared decision-making at the EU level has a very positive impact on the quality of our lives. Let’s assess one of the areas of healthcare which has attracted unprecedented media attention over the recent years: mental health care.
We are progressively seeing certain statistics on our radar, such as the fact that in the UK 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year, or that by 2020 depression will be the second leading cause of disability across the globe, and by 2030, a decade later, depression will be the leading contributor to disease burden. In short, we are facing a global epidemic.
Such a global epidemic, in fact, that the year 2005 saw a turning point in Mental Health Policy. The EU began to respond to the increasing demands of poor mental health, after the World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledged that “mental health and mental well-being are fundamental to the quality of life and productivity of individuals, families, communities and nations, enabling people to experience life as meaningful and to be creative and active citizens”, at the Ministerial Conference on Mental Health in Helsinki, 2005. For the first time, the European Commission published a Green Paper directive on Mental Health, titled “Improving the mental health of the population: Towards a strategy on mental health for the European Union“, which opened up a consultation period after the publication of the document, where the UK actually submitted the most feedback, as 25% of responses were British.
The European Pact for Mental Health and Well-being (2008), called for action in the following five priority areas: prevention of depression and suicide; mental health in youth and education; mental health in the workplace, mental health in older people, and the combating of stigma and social exclusion.
In January 2016, Joint Action on Mental Health and Well-being (JA MH-WB) concluded by producing the European Framework for Action on Mental Health and Well-being. Priority areas for the European Mental Health Policy now are: preventing depression and promoting resilience; better access to mental health services; providing community-based mental health services; preventing suicide; mental health at work; mental health in schools and developing integrated governance approaches.
What this all means is that a huge amount of collaborative work has gone into assessing mental healthcare needs and the EU is promoting legally binding legislation which gives a legal framework for people who experience poor mental health to experience the best quality of care. Furthermore, the European Convention on Human Rights gives maltreated patients the legal ground to make their voices heard, which is becoming more and more necessary as it is coming to light that poor mental health care is actually a breach of one’s fundamental human rights, not just something inconvenient, as if it is luxurious or superfluous.
Imagine if this European legislation didn’t exist. Then those who are campaigning against the atrocities in today’s mental health care system, or fighting for justice after the medical negligence they themselves have received, they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. I understand that the current situation is not ideal, I’ve felt it firsthand. I’ve had both Articles 2 and 8 of the Human Rights Act violated during my experience in the mental health care system, and I am emotionally traumatised from the psychological damage than an overstretched and under-funded NHS can cause, yet I truly believe that that if we left the EU it would only get worse. We need to utilise the tools that we have to promote a better system, rather than just abandoning it altogether. If we cut off this supply of protective legislation, imagine the carnage that would be left in its wake.
If the sheer fact that the EU was built upon principles of international co-operation, peace-making and conflict resolution isn’t enough to persuade you to vote remain’, perhaps this article will make you consider the other more fundamental areas of our personal lives where the EU plays a positive role.
Hannah Lewis has studied European Politics at University of Leeds with a particular research focus on European mental health policy – you can continue the conversation in the comments below or with Hannah Lewis on Twitter