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A new study commissioned by Mental Health Europe assesses whether the EU’s second Health Programme (2008-2013) addresses the interrelation of mental and physical health. The conclusion is that the programme does not make a sufficient connection between the two. This is unfortunate as a more thorough consideration of this link could contribute to the prevention of comorbidity.

Earlier studies have shown that physical and mental health related problems are closely linked. People with long-term physical diseases are two or three times more likely to have a mental disorder. On the other hand, at least 45% of mentally ill people develop chronic physical conditions. Policy measures aiming at improving the health status of EU citizens should therefore take a more holistic approach towards the relationship between mental and physical health.

The study focuses on the work plans, projects and joint actions under the health promotion/health determinants strand of the second European Health Programme (2008-2013). It examines whether the link is sufficiently addressed and how well it meets the five underlying health determinants of the mental – physical health relationship. These determinants are health conditions, biological determinants, health/illness behaviour determinants, social determinants and cognitive and personality determinants.

The research shows that this crucial link is only addressed by one priority action in the work plans (work plan 2010). This focus point, titled ‘Mental health’ reads: “Promoting interdisciplinary co-operation between health professionals which addresses the links between mental and physical health and builds on the increasing understanding of their interdependence.

Particular focus is put on identifying possibilities for preventing depression in co-morbidity with physical illness. ” Regarding the five relevant health determinants, two of the Work Plans (2012 and 2013) cover all five determinants, but none of the projects and joint actions cover all of them.

To conclude, the Work Plan 2010 has made progress in the right direction, yet none of the resultant projects or joint actions paid explicit attention to this interacting aspect of health.

Neglecting this aspect means that health costs will rise. The cost of treating a patient with both physical and mental problems is 45% more than treating a patient with only a physical illness. Investing in health promotion and disease prevention should therefore be emphasised, especially in cases of individuals who already have mental or chronic physical difficulties.

The EU’s third Health Programme, from 2014 to 2020, gives the EU an opportunity to include important topics in its programme which have not received any attention before.

For more information please visit Mental Health Europe website.

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