Since the beginning of the year, we have been intensively cooperating on researching policies and practices in the field of gender sensitive approach to youth mental health within the Erasmus + project “Let’s Talk”. Partners have met on several online meetings to meet, share experiences and plan the project implementation. However, it was only March that brought us the opportunity to meet in-person – at a partnership meeting in Zagreb on March 21 and 22. It was actually a hybrid meeting because some participants still had to participate online. In addition to the usual aspects of project management important for the smooth implementation of planned activities and achieving high quality project results, the meeting was important because of mutual acquaintance and the establishment of a new consortium as well as for sharing experiences in youth work.
We also dedicated a good part of this two-day meeting to the mutual presentation of previous research results and practices in the field of gender-sensitive approach to mental health of young people in partner countries. Unfortunately, numerous studies of the mental health of young people in partner countries show an increase in difficulties, especially due to isolation during the coronavirus pandemic, with young people at risk of poverty and social exclusion at an additional disadvantage and at higher risk of developing mental health problems. Experts and researchers in all partner countries note the deteriorating mental health of young people, with young men and women experiencing difficulties in equal percentages. However, it has been noticed in various studies (prior and during pandemic) that according to gender (identity and expression) mental health problems manifest in slightly different ways. This depends on personality traits, different approaches of the environment, especially families and schools, socio-economic factors and others. For example, a study in Croatia showed that girls most often show mental health and behavioural difficulties such as depression and eating disorders and are more exposed to emotional and sexual abuse; while in young men the higher incidence is in the manifestations of mental disorders through aggressive behaviour, violence, addictions and poorer academic performance. In Italy, a study found that many hospitals were witnessing an increase in the demand for psychiatric hospitalizations among young people, especially due to suicide attempts, self-harm and anorexia. Also, an international study found that Italy is among the countries most affected by deteriorating mental health, but despite this, Italians do not deal with this topic with their children and are least likely (among European countries in this study) to seek support from family and friends in case of mental health problems. Serbia is also similar to Croatia in data from available research. Young people generally rate their mental health during pandemic worse than physical (especially young people between 15 and 19), 14% are concerned about their mental health, while only 52% seek help. Also, similarly to other countries, access to health services during the pandemic was significantly hampered. Regarding the gender-sensitive approach or research on intersectionality in relation to mental health, in our research so far such an approach has not been recorded in any of the partner countries.
An interesting part of the meeting was a small study visit to the youth counselling centre at the NGO Modus Center in Zagreb. The representative of the Center presented to the participants the activities and programs – workshops with parents, children and youth and the work of counselling. Alongside with this example of good practice in the field of community mental health care for young people from Croatia, during our meeting we have presented other numerous good practices example from project countries. Some of them include different helplines that offer psycho-social support and counselling for youth in Greece, Constellation of support (network of CSOs and public institutions that provide mental health programs for young people) in Serbia and Community Educational Pact (process that strengthen the public school to prevent dropout and provide psycho-social support to young people and families) in Italy. More about the findings of the desk research, together with the field action research (interviews with experts and focus groups with young people) we will publish in forthcoming period as the International comparative report and National Policy Roadmaps will be available.
We are pleased that the meeting was held in a good mood, that all representatives of partner organizations showed high motivation to work and that we continue to work together focused on quality, both cooperation itself and achieving project goals. This is evidenced by the comments from the anonymous evaluations of the meeting participants:
The consortium is well balanced, with different expertise, ensuring different point of views. Communication is open and direct. So far we’re very happy with how the consortium is collaborating. Thank you for welcoming us in Zagreb!
Collaboration is very good and I am happy that we had the opportunity to met and discuss about the project.
Thank you for the hospitality, and also thanks to partners who attended the meeting. It was a great opportunity to hear about different experiences and approaches to a very important topic such as mental health. Also it was a great experience and opportunity to get acquainted in more detail with the work of Croatian NGOs and what is their approach to this subject.