Europe needs plan to combat mental illness

The European Union needs a continentwide strategy to combat mental illness, the European Commission urged on Monday, saying mental health problems remain largely ignored even though they affect more than a quarter of adults.

The Commission, in a report to the 25 EU governments, said 27 percent of EU nationals suffer from mental health disorders. It estimated the resulting lost productivity at four percent of the EU's economic output.

"Mental health has been swept under the carpet for too long," EU Commissioner for health Markos Kyprianou said in the statement. "It is a crucial component of overall public health ... and a vital part of a competitive economy."

Mental illness is responsible for most of the 58,000 annual suicides in the 25-nation bloc - more deaths than are caused by car accidents, the Commission said. Lithuania, for instance, records 44 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to only 3.6 in Greece. In Finland, "involuntary placements" in mental health hospitals are 40 times higher than in Portugal.

The Commission proposed that EU governments pool their data on the incidence of mental health and medical practices.

It said it was "determined to raise awareness of this problem and to work toward improving the mental health of the EU population as a whole."

The move is a follow-up to a recent World Health Organization ministerial meeting on mental health in Helsinki, Finland. A.M.

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