When developing accessible, affordable and effective mental health systems, exchange of data between countries is an important moving force towards better mental health care. Unfortunately, health information systems in most countries are weak in the field of mental health, and comparability of data is low.
Special international data collection exercises, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) Atlas Project and the WHO Baseline Project have provided valuable insights in the state of mental health systems in countries, but such single-standing data collections are not sustainable solutions. Improvements in routine data collection are urgently needed. The European Commission has initiated major improvements to ensure harmonized and comprehensive health data collection, by introducing the European Community Health Indicators set and the European Health Interview Survey. However, both of these initiatives lack strength in the field of mental health. The neglect of the need for relevant and valid comparable data on mental health systems is in conflict with the importance of mental health for European countries and the objectives of the ‘Europe 2020’ strategy.
The need for valid and comparable mental health services data is today addressed only by single initiatives, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development work to establish quality indicators for mental health care. Real leadership in developing harmonized mental health data across Europe is lacking. A European Mental Health Observatory is urgently needed to lead development and implementation of monitoring of mental health and mental health service provision in Europe.