Women and children hit hardest by mental health disorders during the pandemic: Headway 2023 Mental Health Index

AP Headway2023 1030X302
  • Published: 7 Oct 2021
  • 83 percent of women report that the pandemic negatively impacted their mental health compared to 36 percent of men.
  • 20 percent of the working-age population experience mild to moderate forms of mental disorders at any given moment in their lives.
  • 1 in 3 children who drop out of school also have a mental disorder.
  • Great variability in the availability, accessibility and quality of mental health services provided and in the responsiveness of European countries to mental health needs in schools, workplaces, and society in general.


Brussels, 7 October 2021: The COVID 19 pandemic has exacerbated gender-related challenges with its mental health consequences disproportionately affecting women, both at work and at home, according to the findings of the “Headway 2023 - Mental Health Index” launched today. The report also sheds light on the impact of mental health disorders on children, revealing a possible association between mental illnesses and school dropouts with 1 in 3 adolescents who drop out of school also experiencing a mental disorder.

The Index is a multidimensional picture conducted in countries in the European Union and the UK as part of the Headway 2023, an initiative on Mental Health conceived and launched by The European House - Ambrosetti, a think tank, in partnership with Angelini Pharma. Headway 2023 is designed as a multidisciplinary platform for knowledge-exchange to prevent, diagnose, manage and find innovative solutions to reduce the burden of mental health and the associated stigma at the European and local level.

Chief Executive Officer, Angelini Pharma, Pierluigi Antonelli said, The COVID-19 recovery efforts provide a crucial opportunity to improve Europe’s mental health services and policies by putting brain health at the top of the European Public health agenda. The Headway 2023 Mental Health Index offers the first ever comprehensive overview of the state of mental health systems in Europe. The report highlights the rate of mental illness among people in working-age and the urgent need also for employers to establish appropriate systems for responding to the mental health needs. Angelini Group, thanks also to the strong commitment of our shareholders, provides a psychological helpdesk for all its employees. It is crucial, while we influence external policies, to remain coherent and act responsibly primarily within our organisations”.

“The topic of Mental Health is of crucial importance, knowing that the boundaries of Mental Health go beyond age, gender, social status and provenance and that mental disorders have an important impact not only on individuals and their families, but also on society. Our analysis and the “Headway 2023 – Mental Health Index” take into consideration all these aspects. Our work provides for a multidimensional picture on Mental Health in Europe combining elements and interventions across health, welfare and education policies in European countries and highlights the weaknesses and successes of countries in responding to mental health needs based on a comparison between other European experiences.”, said Daniela Bianco, Partner and Head of the Healthcare Area, The European House – Ambrosetti.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant consequences on the mental health of the whole population, nevertheless, the context of Mental Health in Europe was already worrying long before the pandemic with more than 84 million people with mental health conditions and 165.000 annual deaths due to mental illness or suicide. Indeed, for example, the life expectancy of people with schizophrenia - 60 years for men and 68 years for women – is 13–15 years lower than the rest of the population. Moreover, suicide is the 6th cause of death in the overall population and the 4th cause of the death in the young population, and in some countries, the impact of mental disorders in young people is greater than the one of all other medical disorders together. The analyses presented today show a great variability in the availability, accessibility and quality of mental health services provided and in the responsiveness of European Countries to mental health needs in schools, workplaces and society in general.’’ said Celso Arango, President of the Spanish Psychiatric Association and Advisor of “Headway 2023. “However, a widespread scarcity of updated data and possible distortions linked to "misreporting" and "under-reporting" emerges. It is therefore crucial to increase the capacity of countries to collect and monitor mental health data to be able to evaluate the dimension of mental health across countries and assess their responsiveness to health and socio-economic needs in mental health.”

According to recent estimates, 83 percent of women report that the pandemic negatively impacted their mental health compared to 36 percent of men. Pregnant women, women in postpartum period, or those experiencing trauma such as a miscarriage or abuse from intimate partners, were found to be most susceptible to the psychological impacts of the pandemic. The burden of household chores and childcare also had a significant impact on women’s mental well-being with 44 percent of women with children under 12 years of age reported struggling with household responsibilities as compared to just 20 percent men. 

The report also reveals that mental ill-health, especially of the mild-to-moderate kind, affects as much as 20 percent of the working-age population at any given moment in their lives, while 70 percent of the employed population report mild to moderate forms of mental health problems. Mental illness may also have a significant impact on people’s ability to work, limiting their capacity to participate in the labour market.  Employment rates in people with severe mental disorders were found to be as low as 45-55 percent and those in the workforce were found to receive a salary that is 58 percent lower than the average. In general, across Europe, the employment rate of people suffering from depression is very heterogeneous, with rates ranging from 27 percent in Romania to 68 percent in Germany, however episodes of absenteeism and presenteeism are frequent and the cost of losing labour productivity is high (equal to 1.6 percent of European GDP).

As the pandemic continues, healthcare workers’ prolonged exposure to extremely stressful and potentially traumatic situations renders them particularly vulnerable to mental stress and anxiety with long term impact on their health. In Europe, 57 percent healthcare professionals reported post-traumatic stress symptoms during the peak of the pandemic.

The “Headway 2023 - Mental Health Index” also highlights the socio-economic impact of mental health disorders. Recent studies estimate the total cost of mental health disorders, in terms of loss of productivity and health and social care expenditure, is expected to be equivalent to 4 percent of EU GDP. Although mental health has critical socio-economic impact, only up to 5 percent of the total government health expenditure is allocated to mental health across Europe (values ranging from 3 percent in Poland, 3.5 percent in Italy, 4.2 percent in Spain and 5.4 percent in Denmark), with impacts on the availability of infrastructural and human resources dedicated to Mental Health. When it comes to the ability to respond to the mental healthcare needs of society, Countries with higher per capita expenditure for mental health-related disability report greater perceived social support.

In general, from the available data, it emerges that Northern/Central European countries perform better than Eastern countries, however, a widespread scarcity of updated data and possible distortions linked to "misreporting" and "under-reporting" by some countries exists.


For further queries, please contact:

Daniela Poggo - Angelini Pharma  daniela.poggio@angelinipharma.com

Anne-Claude Martin - Cambre Associates acmartin@cambre-associates.com