European Union Defines a New Strategy for Youth Mental Health

Health - January 30, 2024

The EU has set up a Specific Strategic Plan for the Psychophysical Well-Being of the Youngest, Until 2027, with Fundamental Principles to Follow

The European Union’s new strategy indicates that safeguarding the health of young people, especially mental health, must be a priority, and the President of the Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen, announced this with the intention of adopting a new global approach to mental health. Underlying this initiative is the report Health at a Glance: Europe 2018, which showed that mental health problems affect around 84 million people across the European Union. In addition to these figures, the 2022 report also showed that almost one in two young people in Europe reported inadequate support for their mental health problems and, the percentage of young people reporting symptoms of depression has more than doubled over the course of the pandemic.
Mental wellbeing is fundamental in the social life of every individual and is necessary for good work productivity, therefore, the repercussions of any psychological and mental health problems can have lifelong negative consequences. According to the European Commission, the magnitude of the impact of the pandemic requires further action to prevent it from leaving permanent scars on this generation, although many European countries have already implemented important measures to support the mental health of young people. Prevention needs to be prioritised to address behavioural and environmental risk factors in order to take more ambitious actions for health promotion.
Mental health depends on multiple factors, such as genetic predisposition, adverse childhood experiences, socioeconomic background, chronic diseases, and alcohol or drug abuse. Policies related to education, employment or social protection can have a positive impact on people’s mental health and well-being, especially if implemented from an early age. The pandemic has irreparably scarred the physical and mental health of young people, who have suffered interruptions in social and educational activities during their school and university years. In some European countries, such as Estonia, Sweden, Belgium, Norway and France, the percentage of young people reporting symptoms of depression more than doubled during the pandemic, reaching higher levels than in older age groups. Many young people and children also significantly reduced their time spent on physical activity and showed a deterioration in their eating habits, resulting in higher rates of childhood overweight and obesity.
The new strategy discussed in the Commission will serve to concretely help EU countries identify policies and implement effective actions to improve the health and well-being of citizens, while minimising health inequalities. Following a collective creation process with EU countries and stakeholders, the initiative supports the implementation of measures aimed at promoting the well-being, active prevention and social inclusion of people with long-term conditions. The activities of the initiative in the field of mental health will be structured around specific priority areas ranging from supporting favourable conditions for good mental health by mainstreaming the subject into all relevant policies, through the promotion of mental well-being, the prevention of mental disorders, the development of a system of access to high quality health services without discrimination and fast, to the protection of social rights in situations of discrimination due to mental health problems. All interventions currently under discussion will be developed by 2027.
It will be crucial to involve European governments in this new mission of the Commission to help young people, scarred by the last difficult years, to take back the reins of their lives in all aspects. The mental health of young people must be safeguarded to ensure a better future for the world.

Alessandro Fiorentino