Government approves Green Paper on Mental Health

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Minister of Health and Labour Tanel Kiik (Center). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The government approved the Green Paper on Mental Health prepared by the Ministry of Social Affairs, which sets the goal of contributing more to the prevention, early detection and timely availability of high-quality care throughout Estonia.

"The need to maintain mental health is greater than ever in the current crisis. There have been many positive developments in the field of mental health in recent years. Children's mental health centers and offices have been established, the state supports the teaching of parental skills, educational institutions have programs teaching and developing social and emotional skills, new services have been created, but much remains to be done," Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) said.

"Each of us can contribute to supporting ourselves and our loved ones, but communities, employers, local governments, all ministries and the state as a whole also have an important role to play in maintaining mental health. The Green Paper provides guidelines and proposals for more systematic development in the field of mental health," he said.

The Green Paper is a policy document that describes the existing arrangements for mental health care, summarizes the challenges in the field, focusing on prevention and timely response, and makes proposals for further targeted development in the field.

The availability of mental health care in primary healthcare has significantly improved in recent years, with more than half of the new health centers also offering psychological help. Cooperation with specialists has improved, family doctors can use e-consultation with a psychiatrist to clarify their patient's diagnosis and prescribe treatment. In addition, the government decided to allocate an additional €1 million to the family doctors' therapy fund with the 2021 supplementary budget, so that family doctors could refer a person to a clinical psychologist if necessary.

"Given the current crisis situation and the associated increased stress level of the population, our focus must be on immediately increasing the availability of primary care services so that people receive the necessary help," Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo (Reform) said.

To improve access to mental health care, the government will provide an additional €2.85 million to the sector, added to which will be €15 million for local authorities to support the well-being of their residents, which, among other things, enables to provide primary support for vulnerable groups through community services and mental health care.

The most acute problem is the lack of mental health professionals and psychiatrists, which is why people often wait longer than permitted to see a doctor. There is an urgent need for mental health nurses and clinical psychologists in both primary care and specialist care. There is also a shortage of both school and occupational psychologists. An additional €400,000 was allocated from the 2021 state budget as a permanent grant to fund the induction year of psychologists to improve access to mental health care.

The preparation of the Green Paper was based on the main goal set in the Population Health Development Plan 2020-2030 to prolong the healthy life of the Estonian people by reducing premature mortality and morbidity. Specific measurable activities and resources are described in follow-up documents. The first is a cross-sectoral suicide prevention action plan to be drawn up by the beginning of 2022.

The action program approved by the current government on February 23 aimed to increase access to mental health services and improve the organization and quality of services.

Early detection of mental health problems and the development of mental health services were also one of the goals of the government that took office in 2019. To achieve these goals, a cross-sectoral Green Paper on Mental Health Policy was developed to maintain positive mental health, prevent problems in a coordinated way and ensure treatment processes.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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