New Headway Report highlights social impact of eco-anxiety, an emerging pre-traumatic mental health disorder

AP23 G 1030 Headway23
  • Published: 25 Oct 2023
  • Key findings of the report highlight the ongoing toll that multiple parallel crises have on mental health in Europe, emphasizing the urgent need for individuals, communities, societies, and policymakers to improve mental well-being across the continent and foster a healthier and more resilient society for current and future generations.
  • Eco-anxiety, a pre-traumatic stress disorder where mental health issues related to impending traumatic events are felt in advance is spreading especially among young generations, leading to increased stress levels, despair, and feelings of helplessness.
  • Empirical evidence shows a direct link between fear of global warming or exposure to extreme weather events and mental health disorders.

Brussels, October 25, 2023 – Eco-anxiety, characterized by a pervasive fear of climate change and its consequences, has emerged as a significant concern for mental health, particularly among young people. New research presented at the European Parliament today by The European House – Ambrosetti, an Italian Think Tank, together with Angelini Pharma, an international pharmaceutical company which is part of the privately-owned Angelini Industries, showed more and more citizens across the continent are suffering from a pervasive fear of climate change and its consequences.

For the first time since the Headway initiative was launched in 2017, the “Headway - Mental Health Index 3.0” report specifically reviewed eco-anxiety as a new key factor. Created as part of an initiative aimed at addressing important issues in mental health across Europe, this composite index compares mental health among the EU-27 countries and the UK using 54 key performance indicators. This comprises three macro-areas: the determinants of mental health, the mental health status of a population and the responsiveness of national health systems to people’s needs relating to healthcare, workplaces, schools and society in general.

The report shows that, on average, more than one third of Europeans (37%) feel exposed to climate change-related threats. In countries where the effects of climate change are already tangible through extreme weather events, such as Italy, Spain and Greece – part of the so-called Mediterranean hotspot, one of the fastest-warming regions on earth – the impact on mental health may be even stronger. Defined as a pre-traumatic stress disorder, most forms of eco-anxiety are non-clinical but can contribute to and worsen pre-existing mental health conditions.

Beyond eco-anxiety, the report points to a number of parallel crises that are impacting people’s mental health. Geopolitical conflicts, social tensions, and the cost-of-living crisis have affected the daily lives of millions of Europeans, with 62% of Europeans reporting to be affected by the current polycrisis. In particular, young individuals emerge as a notably vulnerable group. According to the report's findings, approximately 20% of children experience mental health problems during their school years, and one in five report unhappiness and anxiety about the future due to loneliness, bullying and challenges with schoolwork. Additionally, 45% of those aged 16 to 25 reporting daily anxiety and distress associated with eco-anxiety.

While mental health disorders can affect anyone regardless of nationality, socio-economic background, gender or ethnicity, young people and other vulnerable populations may experience disproportionate levels of distress and need greater levels of support,” said Maria Walsh, Member of the European Parliament for the Midlands-North-West constituency.Incorporating tailored policy and healthcare interventions that offer comprehensive mental health support for the unique challenges faced by these individuals, some of which we are already seeing across certain Member States, could help address mental health disorders as they arise and ensure appropriate support and treatment are provided.”

By providing an overview of mental health in Europe, based on a wide range of information collected and analyzed, the "Headway - Mental Health Index” can also serve as a barometer of each country's ability to produce effective and comparable databases. Headway, in this sense, continues to highlight structural differences and limitations between different databases and health and social care systems, advocating for higher comparability in order to better understand the current mental health status of the population across different European countries and how they respond to the mental health needs.

With this in mind, there are significant differences in how mental health issues are triaged across the surveyed countries, and the report indicates higher or lower scores based on responsiveness across workplaces, schools and overarching society. Ranking at the top in the metrics used for the Headway report were Denmark, Sweden and Finland while Slovakia, Greece and Croatia tended to have lower scores. Importantly, a decrease in a country's score does not necessarily mean its mental health services have worsened but might rather indicate other countries have improved relatively faster.

“During this last year, the European population has faced the concurrence of economic, social, geopolitical, and environmental crisis factors with significant impact on people’s mental health,” said Elisa Milani, Project Coordinator and Consultant, Healthcare Area at The European House – Ambrosetti. “In this scenario, the updated Headway Mental Health Index, now in its third edition, continues to represent a useful tool for the monitoring and planning for healthcare, welfare, education, and environmental policies in mental health across European countries. In this post-pandemic era that has been named a polycrisis due to the occurrence of multiple crises and challenges, the adoption of data-driven tools for policymakers is an opportunity to identify the most critical areas, and, consequently, to intervene through a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach aimed at building a more equitable and resilient society overall.”

The recently launched European Commission’s EU Mental Health Strategy focuses on prevention, access to care and reintegration into society. It is an encouraging example of the growing awareness among national governments, academia, the healthcare industry and other stakeholders that more comprehensive support is needed to address the unprecedented rise of mental health issues across Europe,” said Jacopo Andreose, Chief Executive Officer at Angelini Pharma. “We are grateful to the European Parliament and our partner, The European House – Ambrosetti, for continuing to support and engage with research like the Headway report and look forward to strengthened dialogue, paradigm shifting and best-practice sharing around this more complete picture of mental health across Europe.”

To learn more about “Headway: A New Roadmap in Mental Health” or to download the full report, please visit:


About Headway

The Headway initiative addresses important issues in brain and mental health across Europe. Launched in 2017 by The European House – Ambrosetti, an Italian Think Tank, in partnership with Angelini Pharma, part of the privately owned Angelini Industries, the initiative has the aim of creating a multidisciplinary platform for strategic reflection, analysis, dialogue and comparison between various European experiences in the management of individuals affected by mental disorders.

Since its inception, the Headway initiative has grown to include several studies, reports and activities dedicated to advancing discussions around the mental health services and management needed for patients living with these disorders across Europe.

“Headway: A New Roadmap in Mental Health” is the latest addition to the Headway initiative and provides for a dynamic and more complete picture of the effects of health, social, employment, educational and environmental policy interventions on the mental health status of the population across Europe.