Young people suffering ‘mental health pandemic’ due to Covid, Irish MEP says

Maria Walsh urges EU to prioritise employment, education and mental health

Young people are victims of a "mental health pandemic" due to the impact of Covid-19, Fine Gael MEP Maria Walsh told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Ms Walsh was urging the EU to prioritise young people in terms of employment, education and mental health as part of a new resolution to be voted on by MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday.

The resolution underlines the need for fair pay for work, and for quality traineeships and apprenticeships. It also highlights the challenges faced by those working in the cultural and artistic sector.

Quoting a recent Unicef report, Ms Walsh said suicide was the leading cause of death in Europe among young people, with 1,200 children and young people between the ages of 10 and 19 taking their own lives every year.

Additionally, nine million young people in Europe, aged 10 to 19, are living with mental health disorders. Anxiety and depression accounted for more than half of cases.

Ms Walsh described the statistics as a “frightening” and “probably partial insight into the reality of what I believe is a mental health pandemic across the EU now.”

The Covid-19 pandemic had a “devastating impact” on the youth unemployment rate, which stands at 15.9 per cent, she said. This is 2.5 times higher than the general unemployment rate.

“Many young people are in precarious part-time or temporary work, making it very difficult to plan for their future. Increasing poverty and social exclusion is especially worrying for the most vulnerable young people, such as those not in employment, education or training,” she said.

Ms Walsh also said young Roma, young migrants, young people with disabilities and LGBT+ youth were suffering disproportionately.

“That is why we are calling for a coordinated, creative approach to support young people to rebuild their futures by providing work and educational opportunities through funded EU programmes,” she said.

Ms Walsh was also pushing for the establishment of a European Year of Mental Health and Wellbeing for 2023 to ensure the issue of mental health remained on the agenda across the EU.

As part of her campaign, MEP Walsh met the EU Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides, in Strasbourg this week on her proposal.

The Fine Gael MEP said the 2022 European Year of Youth added momentum, but results must be delivered.

“Every effort should be made to ensure mental health care is accessible and affordable for all age groups, in particular for young people and children, across all our regions,” she said.

In all Member States, mental health should “become an integral part of the EU’s socioeconomic recovery from Covid-19” , she said.

The European Parliament is voting on the resolution on empowering European youth post-pandemic employment and social recovery during its plenary sitting on Wednesday.