The World Health Organization defined mental health as a state of well-being in which an individual realizes potential, can cope with normal life stress, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to society (WHO; 2001).
In the project “Let’s Talk” we have been talking to young people about their mental health, how they cope with difficulties and what helps them. One of the young person also shared their definition of mental health: “When I think about what mental health is, the first thing that comes to mind is: How we feel. I don’t know how to define it, I would say that we are mentally healthy when we are well.”
“Mental health as a human right” is the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day, which aims to emphasize that mental health is a basic human right of all people.
Even before Covid-19, more than 84 million people in the EU were affected by mental health difficulties. That is every sixth person, and it is a number that has increased significantly since the pandemic until today. In June of this year, the European Commission published a communication on mental health in which it presented its plan for a comprehensive approach to mental health in Europe, which marks a turning point in the way the EU deals with mental health. Young people are particularly affected: half of all young Europeans talk about their impaired mental health, and depression has more than doubled among them. This is significantly more than the general population and is an alarming figure.
Therefore, we have to ask ourselves how we can provide the much-needed security, stability and balance to young people. What all experts agree on is that it is important to allow young people to talk openly about mental health, to teach them to share their concerns, and adults need to take them seriously. Only then can we expect that young people will seek support when they need it. With this approach, we break the stigma that surrounds this topic and enable the voice of young people to be heard, and these are the first steps that are necessary for young people to receive professional support.
We are extremely grateful to the young people from partner countries – Croatia, Greece, Italy and Serbia – for their personal stories that they shared with us – about facing and coping with difficulties – with anxiety, panic attacks, loss, loneliness – and other challenging situations with which it was extremely difficult for them to cope with on their own.
Soon we will publish all of them on this website in the hope that they will inspire you and motivate you to talk openly about mental health.
Many of these young people managed to get the necessary support and help – form friends, partners, family and professionals, and are now well thanks to that. In order to increase the number of young people who managed to get support and help, it is necessary to destigmatize this topic, to talk about problems without judgment, but also to strengthen the capacities of everyone who works with young people to be a first aid and part of their circle of support.
Through the “Let’s Talk” project, we learned that mental health services should be available to young people every day, easily, within the local community, without referrals, destigmatizing and free of charge. For decision makers this means providing psychologists and/or mental health experts in schools and more mental health counselling centres. In addition, targeted services adapted to young people within the health system mean the provision of special clinical centres intended specifically for young people, with modern approaches and understanding of the needs of young people from disadvantaged groups. For more recommendations, read our research summary with recommendations.
With the “Let’s talk” project, we encourage an open conversation among young people about the importance of mental health and the importance of seeking support. After discussions with young people and experts of various profiles who work with them, we developed a series of recommendations, as well as a youth mental health program with an emphasis on the gender perspective, which includes a training program, a handbook for youth workers and a workbook for young people.