This new report from the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) highlights existing evidence on the detrimental effect of the ongoing economic crisis and austerity-driven measures on the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents in Europe.
The report shows how political choices, made within a framework of fiscal consolidation, have had negative impacts on citizens’ mental health and well-being. In particular changes in employment status, household income and ability to provide for families seriously impact public health. Children, as a particularly vulnerable group, are disproportionately affected by declining living standards.
Mental health remains a major challenge and is linked to increasing social inequalities. The World Economic Forum classified the increase of chronic diseases as one of the top three global risks to world economic order in terms of likelihood (2009-2010), quickly outpaced by severe income disparity (2012-2013). In the EU, over a third of the population suffers from some form of mental disorder at some point in their life. On average at a single point in time, almost 50 million citizens (about 11% of the population) are estimated to be living with a mental disorder, with women, men, children and youth developing and exhibiting different symptoms and therefore requiring different diagnostic tools, treatment and management. A range of preventative measures needs to be considered.
Across all social strata and population groups mental health and well-being have always been neglected relative to more visible physical, non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Mental health is frequently given a lower political priority despite a well-established knowledge base of risk and protective factors that policies can influence. This is where policy-makers and other stakeholders should turn their attention, rather than revisiting a pathogenic approach. Those are also salutogenic factors that have to be considered in relation to mental health and resilience of the child population. Notoriously invisible and voiceless, children have become unintentional victims of the failings of the political and economic system.
Some child- and health-focused analysis of the Europe 2020 strategy, the European Semester process and its implications have shown the measures to deliver better health to be insufficient, unambitious and inadequate, in particular regarding social inclusion of children and young people, their families and the most vulnerable social groups in Europe. As governments are still trying to restructure our health, social and economic systems in a crisis-driven Europe, these issues should be prioritised as key policy questions.
Photo by Michael Kumm. Creative Commons via Flickr