The European Social Network (ESN) shares the call for improved prevention and better accessibility to mental health services, which was made at the first meeting of the EU Compass on Mental Health and Wellbeing on 6-7 October in Luxembourg. Experts cast a spotlight on the evidence underpinning barriers within existing mental health policy and practice. A huge challenge is determining the most effective prevention strategies for vulnerable groups.

Strengthening effective prevention strategies

Prevention is crucial in order to respond to the complex needs of people at risk, explained Pit Cuijpers from the University of Amsterdam. Mr Cuijpers highlighted that different forms of prevention and intervention mechanisms can be complementary. For example, universal prevention, which are designed to reach the entire population, can be successfully combined with so-called indicated interventions for people with emerging signs of psycho-emotional problems.

A particular group at high risk is people with suicidal tendencies. With this in mind, the Regional Ministry of Equality, Health and Social Policies from Andalucía (Spain) has developed a number of toolkits and awareness-raising strategies in the framework of the project, European Regions Enforcing Actions Against Suicide (EUREGENAS). This kind of best practice was at the heart of the EUCOMPASS conference with many initiatives designed to make it easier for users to find their way into services.

Easing access to services for people with mental health problems

Users need better service pathways but ensuring equal access across territories poses difficulties. René Keet from the GGZ Holland-Noord, a Dutch mental health support network, underlined how community-based services can provide better services access, but he also emphasised the difficulties the Dutch mental health system has in terms of providing coverage in rural and less populated areas. Mr Keet explained that it is easier to set up community-based services in urban areas.

A local example for good service access comes from the City of Aarhus in Demark, where the social services department co-designed what it calls the Equal road to recovery. This is a service pathway put in place after discharge from mental health hospitals based on joint assistance from social workers and mental health professionals as well as from peer support groups.

Conclusion

Examples of good practice like those outlined above illustrate how better service access and smarter prevention can be implemented. Current practice development across Europe focuses primarily on integrated approaches and on effective cooperation between practitioners from social services, mental health, primary healthcare, education, employment, and housing. In integrated approaches, social care practitioners assume key roles by identifying people with mental health problems in the community and by delivering person-centred support jointly produced with users.