mental well-being of young people, well-being

Laura Marchetti, Policy Manager at Mental Health Europe, states the case for supporting the mental well-being of young people

Mental Health Europe released urgent policy recommendations calling for a mental health system change.

Numerous reports and data have pointed to the fact that young people have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has put a considerable strain on their mental health and well-being. Research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggests that experiences of mental health problems during the pandemic were more prevalent among young people compared to other age groups and that overall mental health problems have doubled among people aged between 15 and 24 in the past two years.

The reasons for this widespread increase are many. First of all, mental health support was not fully available and accessible to all already pre-pandemic and this has been further disrupted across the board after March 2020. Closures of educational institutions such as schools and universities have also put young people in front of an uphill path for their future. On the one hand, their opportunities for adequate employment and an adequate transition into the labour market have decreased, with the implication that the overall well-being of a generation has become more precarious.

On the other, the closures of schools and universities have also interrupted those daily routines and social interactions that used to function as protective factors for young people’s well-being, which used to contribute to detecting the early stages of distress and ensuring that support was sought earlier. The results were therefore that young people were left isolated and started to look for support later than usual when the levels of distress and discomfort had already become severe.

The misconceptions around mental well-being of young people

This might seem like a contradiction, given that in the past years mental health has emerged as a more prominent topic of discussion both at the political level as well as in everyday life. After two years of the pandemic, more people are now better informed about how poor mental health can impact a person’s wellbeing and how many different factors can positively or negatively impact a person’s mental health.

However, it is also still true that stigma and misconceptions around mental health continue to be prevalent and are a barrier for people to be comfortable speaking about the topic and seek support when in need. When we ignore mental health issues in our society, we reinforce stigma and prevent those from seeking the help they need.

Moreover, mental health continues to be perceived as less important than physical health: while we are at ease with seeking solutions to overcome physical health problems and are motivated to take care of our physical health, we also remain sceptical, fearful or neglectful rather than doing the same when it comes to our mental wellbeing.

This is why the third European Mental Health Awareness Week that took place between 9th and 13th May focused on young people and on the importance of breaking the stigma around mental health. The week-long campaign rolled out through a series of activities including events and Instagram Lives and ended with the publications of MHE’s policy recommendations to EU and national policymakers.

The recommendations focused on the fact that:

Mental health system change requires joint action to ensure adequate prevention of mental health problems, meaningful empowerment and active engagement of young people in decisions about their mental health, and targeted mental health support at every stage of life.

What can the EU do next to benefit mental health?

The European Union (EU) and its Member States already have a variety of instruments that could be used to address the challenges and barriers that young people face and that impact their mental health. Initiatives and instruments such as the European Semester Cycle, the Child Guarantee, the European Pillar of Social Rights and its Action Plan, various funding streams are just some examples of tools where mental health should be better integrated and mainstreamed to maximise impact.

However, the EU does not currently have an action plan dedicated to mental health to ensure such integration. It would be appropriate for the European Commission to develop a European Mental Health Strategy, as it has been recommended by the Council of the EU, the European Parliament and various civil society organisations.

Tangible actions, appropriate investments and systems are needed to support our youth. The time is now to prevent, empower, and support young people. Mental Health Europe calls on policymakers at European and national levels to commit to youth mental health and build a brighter future for the individual and society. Now more than ever, it is evident that immediate policy action is needed.

Contributor Profile

Senior Policy Officer
Mental Health Europe
Phone: +32 2 227 2708
Website: Visit Website

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