Check against delivery 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

I am delighted to join you today, and to open this first official meeting of the new Joint Action on Mental Health. A much needed joint action that will undoubtedly help shape a much deserved, better future for our mental health patients as well as their families but also their carers. 

And let me begin by highlighting the absolute importance of this action.

Mental health problems were already a great cause of concern even before 2020, affecting more than one in every six people in Europe.

The pandemic has inevitably multiplied these numbers, also being a stark reminder to us all in how precious, fragile, and crucial our mental health is.

In this context, today’s Joint Action has the unique potential to deliver real change and concrete benefits to citizens across the EU.

Earlier this year, I hosted a high-level conference to shine a light on the mental health impact of the pandemic. It attracted nearly 2000 participants and confirmed the utmost importance, but also the complexity of the, much needed, mental health support. The conference also sounded warning bells in that we cannot afford to underestimate the pandemic’s longer-term mental health consequences and impact.

We need to respond with a combination of urgency, investment, solidarity, capacity building and innovation. And we must far and foremost base our efforts on effective collaboration.

We know very well that carefully chosen and well-implemented actions to promote better mental health and to also prevent mental disorders can lead to significant benefits,  over time, for individuals and their families as well as for society at large.

Your new Joint Action will help us to do exactly that! With a health system reform to develop and strengthen community-based services and a multilevel national suicide prevention programme.

Joint Actions are special actions. They bring EU countries together, at the highest level possible, to learn from each other, to share expertise, insight and experience.

They allow us to build on the best available approaches in facing a common challenge.

I therefore find it extremely encouraging that EU countries opted to prioritise mental health for the purpose of best practice implementation. And that as many as 21 Member States decided to participate in this action.

I want to convey my special thanks to the Federal Public Service for Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment in Belgium, and the Austrian Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection for sharing their profound knowledge, thus enabling other countries to learn and benefit from their experience.

I also want to warmly thank the Greek National Public Health Organisation for coordinating this joint action of 21 countries, and to congratulate them on organising this first meeting.

This action is still funded under the third Health Programme, together with a project that will support the implementation of another best practice focusing on the prevention of depression.

A total budget of EUR 7 million is available to support all of this work.

But I assure you that we’re certainly not stopping there.   

Under our ambitious new EU4Health Programme, we plan to do much more to promote mental health in Europe. We have already launched a call for projects to support the implementation of best practices to tackle the pandemic’s mental health impact.

The EU will contribute EUR 750 000 to this effort and the deadline to submit proposals is February 2022. I expect there will be further opportunities in the coming year to support work on mental health and well-being, including with young people, our elderly and other vulnerable groups.

But for now, I would like to close by wishing you every success in your important work and I truly look forward seeing your Action develop and make a real positive impact on the ground, in all participating countries.

To make a tangible change to the lives of so many people.

Because mental health truly matters!