Young people's mental health problems are deeply rooted in political decisions

Sad upset redhead teen girl holding smartphone looking at device screen feeling lonely and isolated, depressed young woman scrolling social media while sitting on sofa at home. Internet use and depression, gadgets and mental health

Young people's mental health is being increasingly compromised by the excessive use of social media, concerns about climate change and a sense of powerlessness. This is a political issue for the EU because it can often be linked to the labour market and housing situation facing young people

Young people and mental health was the topic of a public hearing hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), together with the European Parliament, in Brussels on 9 November.

Mental health is a growing concern across the EU, as it is not only a cornerstone of well-being and the European way of life, but it also costs 4% of the EU's GDP annually. Children and youngsters, women, older people and those exposed to excessive stress are especially vulnerable to the risk of mental health problems, said Milena Angelova, EESC rapporteur for the opinion on on Measures to improve mental health.

In this opinion, the EESC calls for urgent reform of health systems across the EU to provide integrated and planned long-term interventions and care, not only to cure but also to prevent ill health, using multidisciplinary teams rather than episodic models of care.

Cinzia Del Rio, president of the EESC's Section for Social Affairs, Employment and Citizenship, said that the recognition of mental health as a fundamental right" should be at the heart of action and discourse in the EU. "Young people, like other vulnerable groups, are even more likely to suffer from mental health problems. Data show an increasing proportion of young people reporting symptoms of depression, self-harm, eating disorders and suicide.

The hearing highlighted the continued need to tackle the stigma of mental health problems and to develop comprehensive strategies to address mental health, which is influenced by a range of socio-economic and environmental factors.

We also need to make mental health literacy part of the curriculum in our schools from the very first steps," argued Cyrus Engerer, co-chair of the Mental Health Coalition in the European Parliament. He drew attention to the dangers of the "world of social media algorithms, which pose a direct threat to mental and psychological well-being, and which have become even more entrenched in the lives of children and young people as a result of forced isolation during the pandemic.

A healthier digital space is also the aim of the European Commission's actions, as Marianne Takki, Head of Unit in the European Commission's Health DG, pointed out. The Commission's Communication on A Comprehensive Approach to Mental Health (adopted in June 2023) was developed after extensive consultations, including with many youth representatives.

Natalia Kallio, board member of the European Youth Forum, said that her organisation firmly believed that the mental health challenges faced by young people had deep roots in political decisions and stressed that mental health, especially for young people, is a fundamentally political issue.

How can we expect people to maintain their mental well-being when one in three have no security in terms of wages or income and one in four are at risk of poverty or social exclusion? And more than one in two are dissatisfied with the affordability of housing? she asked.

Jose Antonio Moreno Díaz, EESC rapporteur for the opinion on on Precarious work and mental health, underlined that precarious work is a risk for mental health. He called for the legal framework on mental health, including the prevention of psycho-social risks at work, to be strengthened at EU level, through an EU directive for example, with due consultation of the social partners.

During the debate, attention was drawn to the statistic that half of the mental health problems affecting people in adulthood have their onset during or before adolescence, which underlines the need to address the problems of young people in order to build a mentally healthy society.

This is ever more pertinent as they increasingly face health challenges related to excessive use of social media, concerns about climate change and its consequences for their future, and a not uncommon sense of powerlessness in dealing with the climate problem.

We need to urge politicians to address mental health risks. Not only here, not only in the European Parliament. We have to speak out in our own countries to push politicians, concluded Ivan Kokalov, EESC co-rapporteur for the opinion on Measures to improve mental health.