The therapy guarantee – the citizens’ initiative for mental health operators to speed up access to mental health services – has yet to be implemented during this term of government as an urgent decision and with permanent budget funding.
After the end of the Covid-19 restrictions, demand for mental health services is likely to increase further and services may become congested. During the restrictions, low-threshold mental health services, amongst other services, have been closed.
Feelings of strain and exhaustion now affect young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 in particular.
According to a survey published in February 2021 by the Finnish National Youth Council Allianssi – the umbrella organisation for the youth sector – and the MTV News, 75 per cent of young adults feel that the Covid-19 restrictions have harmed their mental wellbeing.
According to a health survey of university students, mental health symptoms have increased amongst students and young people throughout the 21st century. The Covid-19 pandemic has further worsened the situation.
Access to low-threshold healthcare must be improved
Last year, the government provided funds in the supplementary budget for the readiness of the Finnish Student Health Service for dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, amongst other things. In addition, the Ministry of Education and Culture made it possible for secondary student unions and third-level student unions to apply for a special grant to increase communality among students.
However, in addition to these, changes are needed in the service system to facilitate access to mental health services for all sections of the population, especially low-threshold short-term care.
Already in 2018, the OECD estimated that the annual cost of weakened mental health for Finland is EUR 11 billion. The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, for its part, estimated in its recent report that the total cost to public finances of people being outside the scope of working life in 2019 was more than EUR 18 billion. Finland loses 5.2 million working days a year due to mental health problems.
These problems are currently the largest single reason for disability pensions being granted. Mental health problems thus increase the pressure on public finances and reduce the availability of labour.
Addressing these problems and investing in wellbeing must be taken into account as part of employment measures. Finland’s public finance plan for the 2022–2025 period will be outlined in the government’s mid-term discussions.
Mental health must be seen both as a humane contribution to people’s wellbeing and a necessary investment in the economy and employment.
Making the therapy guarantee a reality in the mid-term discussions
The therapy guarantee has yet to be implemented during this term of government as an urgent decision and with permanent budget funding. In the 2019 parliamentary elections, all the parties that are now in government committed themselves to the goals set out in the therapy guarantee.
The cost of the therapy guarantee would be about EUR 35 million a year. It would provide additional reinforcement to primary healthcare with an extra 500 mental health professionals. In addition, the allocation includes investments in the in-service training of existing professionals.
Significant savings can be made from this welfare investment. Evidence-based psychosocial treatment or the early availability of psychotherapy in basic services could result in the transfer of an estimated 7,500 people from benefits to employment.
Raising the employment rate, which the government is attempting to do, could be difficult without effective mental health provisions. If the number of transitions to disability pensions for mental health reasons were to fall by 10 to 15 per cent, the employment rate would increase by 0.25 to 0.37 per cent, and Finland’s gross domestic product would increase by 0.3 to 0.5 per cent.
Mental health services need to be put at the forefront of the governments’ mid-term discussions. Now is finally the time to make the therapy guarantee a reality.
Signatories to the position
Mielenterveyspooli – Mental Health Partnership Finland
SOSTE Finnish Federation for Social Affairs and Health
Finnish Youth Sector Association Allianssi
SAMOK University of Applied Sciences Students in Finland
National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL)