Suicide is the number two killer among young people living in Europe, a recent Unicef report on the state of their mental health found.
The research titled “On My Mind” – presented Friday morning to the European Commission – examined the main elements causing damage to their mental health and laid out action points for governments to tackle the problem.
“Despite all we know, governments and societies are investing far, far too little in promoting, protecting and caring for the mental health
of children, young people and their caregivers,” the report stated.
Every year in Europe, 1,200 children and young people between the ages of 10 and 19 take their own lives, which equates to three adolescents taking their lives every day. Meanwhile, it found 16.3% of all boys and girls in Europe aged 10–19 have a mental disorder, the equivalent of nine million young people.
In Belgium, this figure is as high as the European average. When looking at differences based on gender, girls aged 10–19 are slightly less likely to have a mental disorder (16%) than boys (16.6%).
When it comes to the concerns expressed by young people in Belgium, the complex relationship between digital technology usage and mental health, as well as domestic violence, were at the top of the list.
Several children argued that there is an urgent need for proper support to be offered to parents and children, with one 17-year-old boy saying: “We need to hire people, social workers, for example, to accompany the families. The parents need to take their anger out on something other than us.”
Concrete action and support needed
The non-profit organisation said that the absence of leadership and commitment was at the root of this problem, as they have so far failed to respond to this growing issue in a correct way.
Although Unicef recognised that the pandemic has put the mental health and well-being of young people at risk for an entire generation, it also stressed that it offers “an opportunity to build back better.”
Researchers put forward three core principles – commitment from leaders, backed by investment; Communication to break down stigmas and open conversations on mental health; Action to strengthen the capacity – which they stressed the next steps should focus on.
“The European Union institutions should scale up their action to build back better by laying down the foundations for more resilient national health and social protection systems while centring the recovery on the new generation’s well-being with a focus on making mental health services accessible to all who need them,” the report stated.
Those in need of a listening ear or with any questions about suicide can contact the Suicide Line anonymously on the toll-free number 1813 or at www.zelfmoord1813.be in Dutch, at 0800 32 123 in French, or at 02 648 40 14 in English.