A sustainable approach to depression

Depression is on the rise, but the policy response so far has been insufficient. Huge gaps in care and underfunding of mental health services are areas that need to be addressed.


More than 35 million people in Europe are estimated to be living with depression – and that number is predicted to rise.

By 2030, depression will be the leading cause of disease burden in high-income countries. It is a common condition with multiple causes, and can present very differently depending on the person. It can affect anyone, at any age, but the rise of depression in young people is a particular concern. Depression beginning in youth is associated with a higher rate of recurrence and poorer outcomes than depression beginning in adulthood. In older people, depression can exacerbate the effects of chronic conditions, more so than in younger populations.

As a leading cause of low productivity, depression imposes a considerable cost on society. More importantly, it is a significant risk factor for suicide. Tragically, around 15–20% of people with depression end their life by suicide.

Mental health awareness has progressed in recent years, but our response to depression remains far from adequate. Mental health services are underfunded and there is too little focus on prevention. The time has come to develop a sustainable approach to depression, to improve the lives of millions of people across Europe.

What we’ve achieved

Recognising the urgent need for policymakers to effectively address depression, nine key mental health-related organisations joined forces to produce a report to offer recommendations based on existing examples of good practice. HPP was invited to support this work. The report, A sustainable approach to depression: moving from words to actions, features ten policy recommendations which constitute a framework for action to provide a sustained policy response to depression. Sixteen case studies are also included, along with a checklist for future projects based on the lessons learnt.

The report was launched at the European Parliament on 5 December 2018, at a meeting of the European Parliament Interest Group on Mental Health, Well-being and Brain Disorders, co-organised by the initiators of the report. Supported by some 13 MEPs, the meeting was chaired by Tomas Zdechovsky MEP and Julian Beezhold (European Psychiatric Association).

In 2019, we supported GAMIAN-Europe, one of the nine organisations that co-authored the report, to set up a dedicated Words to Actions website. Throughout 2019, we produced several spin-off publications based on the original report, starting with a four-page policy ask. We also created a series of policy briefs, which were accompanied by blog posts co-authored with different mental health organisations.

In 2020, the initiative continued with the launch of a dedicated Twitter account, managed by HPP. We produced an animation based on the initial policy report, which we launched on World Mental Health Day in October. We also created a series of posters highlighting key topics in depression, each of which was promoted by a mini campaign on Twitter.

The project continued with the development of an assessment framework for depression, which was applied to several countries in Europe to produce national-level depression scorecards.

Key partners and stakeholders

The report was initiated by nine organisations:

  • Global Alliance of Mental Illness Advocacy Networks (GAMIAN – Europe)
  • European Psychiatric Association (EPA)
  • European Brain Council (EBC)
  • European Federation of Associations of Families of People with Mental Illness (EUFAMI)
  • Expert Platform on Depression
  • Eurocarers
  • European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP)
  • Union Européenne des Médecins Spécialistes (UEMS) Section of Psychiatry
  • International Federation for Psychotherapy.


  • Julian Beezhold, European Psychiatric Association
  • Frédéric Destrebecq, European Brain Council
  • Maria Fresu, European Psychiatric Association
  • Martin grosse Holtforth, International Federation of Psychotherapy
  • Marc Hermans, Immediate Past President UEMS Section of Psychiatry
  • Kevin Jones, EUFAMI
  • Hilkka Kärkkäinen, GAMIAN – Europe
  • Stephanie Kramer, European Brain Council
  • Alexander Schubert, European College of Neuropsychopharmacology
  • Margaret Walker, EUFAMI
  • Joseph Zohar, Expert Platform on Mental Health Focus on Depression
  • Suzanne Wait, The Health Policy Partnership
  • Alexandra Evans, The Health Policy Partnership


  • Claire Champeix, Eurocarers

Project funding

The original report and all subsequent Words to Actions materials were initiated and funded by Janssen.