New Headway report: environmental crisis has a major impact on mental health.
The result of 2022 report presented in Brussels at European Parliament
Economic uncertainty, war and the climate crisis are at the root of a new wave of mental health disorders affecting the population with a significant and very extensive impact across 27 EU countries. Among other dimensions that impact the mental health of the population, the environmental one (both physical environment / climate crisis and geopolitical environment) has primary importance. The frame comes out of the 2022 Headway Mental Health report, whose results have been presented on September 28th in Brussels, at the European Parliament.
"Headway" is an initiative on Mental Health that was conceived and launched in 2017 by the Think Tank “The European House – Ambrosetti”, in partnership with Angelini Pharma, with the aim of creating a multidisciplinary platform for strategic reflection, analysis, dialogue and comparison between various European experiences in the management of individuals affected my Mental Health disorders.
The goal of "Headway", in 2022, has been to continue the work started in 2017 aimed at sharing knowledge and know-how to prevent, diagnose, manage, and find solutions that reduce the burden of mental disorders not only in the health sector, but also in workplaces, schools, and society at large but also in the environmental context. In particular, the objective of "Headway" in 2022 has been to update the Mental health Index, an analysis model capable of evaluating the performance of European Countries in the field of mental health with particular focus on the areas of Health, Society, Education, and Employment, integrating a new area that is the Environmental context. The latter takes into account both the environmental context (e.g., pollution, climate, etc.), but also the physical context (e.g., natural disasters, security, crime, etc.).
Headway Mental Health Index 2022: highlights
The 2022 report provides a current multidimensional picture on mental health across 27 EU countries and the UK using 55 key performance indicators (KPIs) and integrates a new key area of consideration, environmental determinants of mental health. The publication’s other three areas of focus are mental health status of the population and the responsiveness of systems to mental health needs in healthcare and mental health needs in workplaces, schools and society.
According to the report, environmental determinants are a recently framed category in mental health that incorporates all external conditions affecting the life, development, and survival of a person. The indicators in this area include a wide range of factors such as daylight hours, climate change and air pollution, urban green space, conflicts, migration, and economic recession as well as poor housing conditions and overcrowding. Interactions between these factors determine the mental health of both individuals and populations. The document highlights the disastrous impact of issues such as climate change, mass flooding, heatwaves, and socio-political conflicts, such as the war in Ukraine, on mental health.
The report points out as consequences of climate change, among others, increased mortality, impulsive and aggressive behaviors, and higher suicide rates.
WHO-Europe estimates that over 110 million people are living with some kind of Mental Health disorder in Europe. Furthermore, mental health conditions are among the top 10 most common non-communicable diseases. At the same time, it must be considered that it is complicated to address the challenges posed by mental health disorders considering the high variability among European Countries.
The pandemic and the associated restrictive measures heavily impacted on depression and anxiety disorders for which an increase has been registered in all Countries. The publication highlights the still-present, devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health, noting that the pandemic has intensified the long waiting times, staff shortages and lack of funding already present in the mental health sphere. Furthermore, higher risk of infection, longer working hours and high patient loads have contributed to healthcare professionals experiencing much higher levels of anxiety and depression than people in other professions.
A final aspect of the publication underlines how the Member States must address to support people’s mental health in workplaces, schools, and society. Some European countries lack relevant data on factors needed to assess these needs, such as employment rate or social support for people with mental health problems. However, evaluating these factors is essential for policymakers and healthcare providers to ensure comprehensive support for people with mental health problems.