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Mental health 'therapy guarantee' initiative reaches 50K target

A citizens' initiative to ensure swift access to mental health services has received enough signatures to be heard in parliament. 

Psykiatrian päivystyspoliklinikan avaytuva ovi.
Image: Hanna Othman / Yle

A citizens' initiative billed as a "Therapy Guarantee" has garnered the support of 50,000 Finnish citizens as of Friday evening, 19 July. This means it will proceed to the Finnish Parliament for consideration. The initiative would set a one-month deadline for people to gain access to mental health services.

A coalition of 24 mental health groups is behind the proposal, which was submitted in February by Helsinki city councillor Alviina Alametsä.

Public debate in recent weeks about widespread mental health issues among young people in Finland provided the needed impetus for the citizens' initiative to meet its target, with some 10,000 signatures added to the proposal in the span of one week.

Specialist referrals no longer necessary

The therapy guarantee seeks to put an end to people in need of mental health services not receiving care. Some findings posit that only one in two people with mental health problems receive the care they need in Finland. Other figures show that half of the population faces some kind of mental health issue at some point in their lives.

The new law being called for would improve accessibility and equity of mental health services, so patients could receive the needed help and support as quickly as possible.

It would require patients to be given access to help immediately after their first visit to a health care centre. In other words, patients would no longer be required to show a specialist doctor's diagnosis, as the judgement of a basic health care professional would be considered enough to warrant a referral.

Treatment within one month of clinic visit

Psychotherapy or some other form of psychosocial treatment to address the acknowledged symptoms would then begin at the latest within one month of the initial health clinic visit.

"The therapy guarantee would build an effective network of mental health services within the basic health care framework of Finland. It would supplement the current system by providing faster, easier and more customer-oriented assistance," the proposal reads.

The proposed guarantee would also promote equity, as access to the required therapy would be guaranteed for all patients, regardless of their economic means.

Early care could create millions in savings

The new law is also projected to generate significant savings with time. Earlier access to the proper treatment would prevent longer sick leaves, for example.

The OECD estimates that the direct and indirect total cost of mental health disorders in Finland cost the state 11 billion euros each year.

The organisations behind the citizens' initiative predict that the reform would promote the rehabilitation of 7,500 individuals, who could then return to the job market.

The annual cost of the therapy guarantee is estimated at approximately 35 million euros. Even so, the authors of the initiative have calculated that the resulting decrease in benefits and increase in tax revenue would create close to ten times this amount in savings, or 340 million euros.

"A mental health services system with a low threshold to treatment is much more cost-effective than one that relies on specialist care. Early access to treatment is known to have a pre-emptive effect on the worsening of symptoms and disorders, in addition to reducing the need for other health care services," the proposal states.

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