Lockdown has hit mental health hard. It has been particularly tough on those who were already having a hard time, according to Magnus Jägerskog, Secretary General of the Swedish children’s rights organisation BRIS and Dr. MaiBritt Giacobini, a specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry, both of whom took part in the meeting, which started with the minister reflecting on the challenge faced in Sweden. She explained that mental health had been a growing problem for several years before COVID-19, that the pandemic has exacerbated the situation and that vulnerable children and young people have been the hardest hit. Hallengren wants to do something about the situation.
“The government in Sweden has high ambitions for mental health and suicide prevention, and children and young people are a priority in this work,” says the minister, who believes that the solution lies in long-term and strategic initiatives in a range of areas.
Some children were just never invited into social bubbles
Bente Stein Mathisen, chair of the Committee on Welfare in the Nordic Region, strongly agrees that it is an important priority.
“Children and young people have suffered from loneliness and isolation during the pandemic. They have had social bubbles of about four friends, but some kids are just never invited into these groups. They have been excluded and felt even more lonely. Clubs, associations and other leisure activities were also closed, so there was no help to be had from them either,” Mathisen pointed out.
Concern that mental health issues and loneliness can lead to suicide
The mental health of vulnerable children and young people was already a priority for the Committee for Welfare in the Nordic Region before COVID-19. It focuses in particular on the high suicide rates in the Nordic Region, where 10 people take their own lives every day. The Committee’s concern is that more children and young people will be driven to suicide due to loneliness and lack of mental wellbeing during the pandemic. A year ago, the committee adopted a target of 25% fewer suicides in the Nordic Region by 2025. The long-term goal is to prevent suicide completely.
My first thought when society shut down was for all of my students, who would be forced into loneliness.
School is important
Nina Sandberg, the vice-chair, committee member Eva Lindh also took part in the debate, both with their eyes fixed firmly on the future as well as what needs to be done now.
“In the wake of the pandemic, we need to launch joint initiatives to minimise the consequences and prevent the same thing from happening during any future crises,” Sandberg says. Lind agrees and points out that the importance of the school cannot be underestimated.
“My first thought when society shut down was for all of my students, who would be forced into loneliness. I have worked as a school welfare officer for many years and know how important school is to children and young people – especially those with a hard life,” adds Lindh, who joined the chair and vice-chair in calling for an in-depth analysis in order to generate knowledge of the issues, share effective measures and come up with preventive measures at Nordic level.
Mental health summit
The Nordic Council of Ministers is holding a summit on mental health in Helsinki in November and has earmarked funding for the Nordic Welfare Centre to run a Nordic co-operation project focusing on children and young people’s rights and opportunities to be heard during COVID-19.