Mental health is an essential component of human well-being, however mental disorders such as depression and anxiety affect more than one in six European Union citizens representing a significant personal and societal burden. In addition, according to The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), poor mental health is estimated to cost Europe over 600 billion euros per year or over 4% of GDP of which a third goes to direct health care spending.
Mental health is an essential component of human well-being, however mental disorders such as depression and anxiety affect more than one in six European Union citizens representing a significant personal and societal burden
It is also widely documented that human mental health and well-being emerges from a complex interplay between genetic, psychological, social and lifestyle factors and environmental exposures. On the other hand, a growing body of evidence on the poor state of our environment, not least our inability to prevent runaway climate change. EU citizens are increasingly calling on governments to step up action.
Furthermore, the COVID-19 crisis, with its foreseeable and unforeseen socio-economic implications, adds a more urgent need for policy- and decision makers to identify and implement win-win solutions to both challenges.
A just released background paper titled Mental health and the environment: How European policies can better reflect the impact of environment al degradation on people’s mental health and well being (December 2020) by the Institute for European Environmental Policy and ISGlobal aims to respond to this need by reviewing the available scientific evidence on the correlation between the environment and people’s mental health and well-being in Europe.
A just released paper by the Institute for European Environmental Policy and ISGlobal aims to review the available scientific evidence on the correlation between the environment and people’s mental health and well-being in Europe
This paper looks into environmental degradation and pollution as a threat to mental health, as well as nature as an enabler of good mental health and the role of nature in the treatment of mental health conditions. Its structure logically flows from a review of the various environmental determinants of mental health towards the possible solutions and mitigating actions via nature, ecosystem services and an overall improvement of the environment.
The paper also discusses how the interplay between environment and mental health is incorporated in major policy documents and suggests ways for further integration. The paper devises a set of policy recommendations to encourage an improvement in mental and environmental health and to ensure consistent consideration of the impact of the environment on mental health and well-being in relevant EU- and Member State policies, and vice versa, by mainstreaming mental health issues on environment policies and interventions. It also devises how to incorporate both on research funding mechanisms.
Thus, the European Commission can play a crucial coordinating role to ensure mental health and well-being are horizontally integrated in other policies building on the engagement of constituencies beyond the health and environment sectors, including urban planning and transport, health and social care, education and employment, etc., and crucially paying proper consideration of the rights of marginalized and underprivileged communities (frequently exposed and more vulnerable to negative environmental impacts and deprived from benefits of nature and a clean environment, therefore suffering a higher burden of mental health problems). Additionally, a vertical equitable integration including all levels of society: from local communities to the EU-level is also necessary.
The European Commission can play a crucial coordinating role to ensure mental health and well-being are horizontally integrated in other policies building on the engagement of constituencies beyond the health and environment sectors
This integration is what paradigms such as Planetary Health or One Health push for, or what frameworks such as “Health in all policies” or the recognition of the interlinkages between various Sustainable Development Goals included in the 2030 Agenda (what Ramirez et al conceptualized as SDG 3+) proposes.
Two examples of the mentioned cross-pollinization between different disciplines:
- The 2020 EEA report (Healthy environment, healthy lives): how the environment influences health and well-being in Europe highlights how the quality of Europe’s environment plays a key role in determining our health and well-being.
- Lancet Commission on Global Mental Health and Sustainable Development aims to seize the opportunity offered by the Sustainable Development Goals to consider future directions for global mental health.
In summary, in the post COVID-19 recovery process the EU needs to put citizens’ health and well-being at the centre of policymaking, including the environmental impacts on mental health as conditions for well-being and a prerequisite for sustainable development.
Related ISGlobal Projects on Mental Health
ISGlobal is working on the issue of mental health from various projects, including:
- CONTENT: The objective of the project is to analyse the broad and lasting effects that the COVID-19 pandemic could have on society.
- COVICAT: It aims to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 in the Catalan population, including social factors.
- RECETAS: The project will explore the potential of nature-based solutions as an alternative to pharmaceutical prescriptions by testing a novel intervention – nature-based social prescribing (a review is available here).