The Mental Health Crisis in Europe – by Coen Vulders (Netherlands) 

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We are currently in a mental health crisis. Young Europeans have been facing mental health challenges like never seen before. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic we have not been able to go to schools, meet up with friends or go to  work. The current measures taken by national governments are focused on families, whom have a house and a stable source of income. Young people, on the other hand, have been largely forgotten.


In my own country, the Netherlands, at the time of writing this article, the Ministers have not spoken about how to make things better for the youth in months. The opening up of bars has been done before making sure University students could attend classes on campus. Young people have been given no perspective during this entire pandemic, while we are arguably struggling the hardest.


Many young Europeans were already in a dire mental state and this pandemic has pulled them over the edge. Imagine being the first in line that is fired from a minimum wage contract job, with no secondary benefits or economic buffer, all while sleeping, studying and living in the same room and hearing that it is your fault that the virus is spreading. 


Isolation is also another negative factor and we (young people) are facing it during the most social and character forming years of our life, knowing we will never be able to afford our own house on a planet that is heading for environmental disaster. All this is the perfect recipe for mental health disaster. This is what the youth of today is facing.


We have been showing solidarity with the elderly to whom this virus is an immense threat, while most young people barely notice that they have been sick, yet there seems to be no solidarity the other way around. ‘’You don’t have it that bad, we survived a war!’’ Not knowing that a large percentage of nursing staff, doctors, cleaners, the testing personnel, lab workers and all other health care staff -the people at the front lines that are taking care of them- are actually not even older than thirty. Marginalising youth problems does nothing but make them feel unheard and even not taken seriously. It is not about who has or had it worse, that only creates a generational divide.


In the Netherlands, the government has done nothing to help young people with this struggle. At one point, the Prime Minister in Netherlands mentioned that young people don’t always adhere to the COVID-19 rules and restrictions. As for the problem of the youth, they say they acknowledge these problems, but have no programmes to support citizens.


Mental health budgets have been cut year after year, while there is an increasing demand. While I myself was in a mental health crisis with suicidal tendencies, the waiting list was six months for urgent care. I am fortunate enough to have a strong social support system that could help me during these trying times. For many people this is not the case. They have to struggle on their own, wait on their own until it’s finally their turn to get professional help.


A case like this happened at the hospital where I work. A young woman who attempted suicide via a combination of an overdose and physical self-harm was taken in to the hospital, after a couple of days she was stabilised and the doctor had to tell her that the waiting list for professional help, with her situation in mind, was seven months. Her response to this was to ask the nursing staff to give back the sharp object she had brought with her. 


I would like governments to take action, both on a small and larger scale for the years to come. Make people aware of all the institutions that are ready to help them both professionally and informally, create a plan together with psychologists, doctors and people facing these problems, on what people can do to help themselves. Educate people on how to identify these problems and how to create a safe environment in which these problems can be discussed. 


In the long run, money needs to be invested in order to offer professional help. There are thousands of psychology students eager to get into the clinics to help, but the current system makes it very difficult to get the right traineeship in order to become a clinical psychologist. This creates an immense loss of talented and passionate people that are willing to devote their lives to help others. Where do they end up? In corporations analysing how the staff can work more efficiently in order to maximise profits. 


Young people are willing to talk about mental health so let’s facilitate this change and create a healthier Europe for generations to come. As for the monetary aspect for this call to action, prevention is always cheaper than curing. 


What’s the European Union’s stand on mental health?

Emotional support helpline – 116 123


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