New EU Comprehensive Approach on Mental Health: progress and challenges for Education


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On 7 June 2023, the European Commission published a non-legislative Communication on a comprehensive approach on mental health. The initiative was subject to a public consultation to which ETUCE contributed at the beginning of the year through its Statement on addressing mental health in the education sector. The Communication is structured around eight thematic areas, including a specific area on tackling psychosocial risks at work.

ETUCE welcomes that the EU Commission recognises the impact of work environments on workers’ health. As the Communication points out, the presence of work-related stress and psychosocial risks can trigger detrimental effects on mental well-being of workers, resulting in a multitude of adverse consequences such as diminished job satisfaction, increased conflicts, decreased productivity, burnout, absenteeism, and higher turnover rates. Moreover, the European Commission's acknowledgment of the importance of fundamental factors like the right to disconnect, facilitating individuals' return to work after mental illness, and establishing a psychologically safe working environment is also appreciated.

ETUCE further appreciates the Commission's decision to establish a network on Long-COVID involving experts from Member States, in light of the risk faced by education workers in contracting the Long-COVID syndrome, which has been associated with increased levels of anxiety and depression. This EU Commission's initiative is in line with the education trade unions’ demands in the ETUCE Recommendations on the Long COVID-19 syndrome in the education sector to enable a deep understanding of the impact of the Long COVID-19 syndrome.

To tackle mental health issues in workplaces, the European Commission intends to implement

  • A peer review on legislative and enforcement approaches to address psychosocial risks at work and incorporating the input of social partners into an EU-level initiative on psychosocial risks in the medium-term.
  • Two EU-wide workplace campaigns with the support of EU-OSHA specifically addressing safe and healthy work in the digital age, as well as psychosocial risks and mental health in the workplace.

In this context, ETUCE regrets that the Communication does not present ambitious actions, such as legislative measures, to tackle work-related mental health issues, including in the education sector. Besides, ETUCE urges the revision of the Framework to priorities prevention and effective measures against psychosocial risks and work-related stress.

As for the education sector, the Communication underlines the need for prevention and early interventions by teachers to promote the mental health resilience of children and young people and calls for "adequately trained staff, a worthy investment that can help reduce stigma around mental health issues and build a more resilient and cohesive society". Despite welcoming the emphasis on investing in teachers, ETUCE underlines that this initiative should not put additional pressure on teachers and other education personnel across Europe who are already experiencing an unprecedented teacher shortage. Promoting mental health in education requires adequately trained staff including specialised support personnel in education institutions. Indeed, more public investment in education is needed to allow the resources to provide the necessary training, more qualified staff and support personnel, as well as risk assessment that includes psycho-social risk analysis.

All in all, while the initiative is a long-waited starting point to address mental health, ETUCE believes the attention to the workplace dimension of mental health, including in the education sector, remains insufficient and urges more ambitious actions to safeguard mental health in the workplace, including in the education sector.