La santé

French presidential candidates unified in calls for mental health care reform

Presidential candidates in the French election race all expressed their support for reforming the state of mental health care, following a significant deterioration in the country’s mental well-being following the pandemic. EURACTIV France reports.

In September 2021, 23% of French people showed signs of anxiety, a 10 percentage point increase compared to pre-pandemic levels, the country’s public health agency Santé publique France has stated.

Right-wing candidate Valérie Pécresse, of Les Républicains, proposed setting up a National Institute for Mental Health similar to the National Cancer Institute which was set up by former president Jacques Chirac.

The purpose of this institute would be to have a “strategy of care and support for patients”, but also to “boost innovation and therapeutic research on mental illnesses”, Pécresse detailed during an event organised by the French Hospital Federation (FHF) on 17 March where presidential candidates presented their healthcare proposals.

When asked by psychiatrist Edwick Elia about the “unprecedented haemorrhage” in the French psychiatric sector, Pécresse proposed to increase the number of trained practitioners and – together with psychologists – develop the branch of child psychiatry, which is “in great distress”.

To make up for the lack of specialised practitioners, Pécresse also suggested training general practitioners to help them better identify anxiety disorders, since they have a “fundamental” role. The mental health of the French will be “a major focus of the five-year term”, she also said.

At the same event, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen said that “there is an emergency” as France’s suicide rate – 9,000 a year in 2019 – is higher than the average of OECD countries.

Le Pen thus wants to create a law on mental and psychiatric health for “the organisation of mental health territories, support for child psychiatry, direct access to psychologists and psychotherapists with better remuneration and reimbursement for their activity”.

“It is a huge problem, a huge expense as well (a burden) and a major public health problem that is not taken seriously at all,” Patrick Barriot, her health adviser, said at a debate with nursing unions a few days later.

“We need to restructure all this with a planning law on mental health,” he confirmed.

More qualified staff, more beds in psychiatry 

Communist candidate Fabien Roussel also favoured creating such a law, to “redefine its general principles and its organisation”.

Roussel suggested including a moratorium on the closure of CMPs, medical and psychological centres where people in psychological distress are attended to.

Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise – who did not take part in the event – wants to strengthen the CMP networks by putting in place a “great plan for mental health”, which would include the opening of psychiatric beds and an increase in the number of places for students in psychiatric courses, the candidate’s manifesto writes.

To strengthen the supply of care and the quality of services, Roussel said he plans to strengthen human and material resources through “massive recruitment” and the training of “qualified staff”. The same is true of the Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo, who said she wants to create 5,000 positions for carers, including psychologists and nurses, in CMPs.

For his part, Green candidate Yannick Jadot said he plans to open 10,000 beds in psychiatry during his five-year term if elected. He said he wants to ensure “that at all levels, from schools to medical centres and elsewhere, we have mental health care that truly meets the needs of our society”.

“You know how much suffering there is, including during this pandemic, particularly among young people,” he told members of the FHF at the event.

Prevention is also key for Jadot and Hidalgo, who both want to recognise burnout as an occupational disease.

The Socialist candidate also said she wanted to make mental health one of the main priorities of her five-year term. Reducing the number of suicides by 20% in five years, doubling the budgets dedicated to the mental health of young people and opening 20,000 places in homes specialising in mental disabilities are among her objectives.

Health Minister Olivier Véran who represented up-for-re-election President Emmanuel Macron at the event insisted above all on the need to “intensify the actions undertaken”, particularly during a conference that will involve “all health professionals”.

Macron held a conference on mental health in September 2021 which was eagerly awaited by professionals in the sector. The president announced 30 measures, including the MonPsy scheme, which allows for reimbursement of up to eight consultations with a psychologist, the strengthening of CMPs and the creation of a free national suicide prevention number.

According to the UN, depression is currently the third most common disease in the world and is expected to become the most common one by 2030.

[Edited by Daniel Eck/Nathalie Weatherald]