In this new normality, the world as we know it no longer exists. Online classes are now the main form of teaching. Zoom parties have replaced house parties. Major changes to many social determinants of mental health have occurred. Workers have lost jobs, countless individuals risked exposure to the virus on the frontlines, and several transformed homes into home offices. Then there are people that have no homes. However, let us not stray too far from the main topic.
The pandemic has left a deep imprint on the lives of every single one of us. Living in lockdown initially seemed like a short interruption to our daily routines, but it has since become clear that this new way of living is here to stay for quite some time. As Paul Gelissen, Youth Taskforce member, Mental Health Europe, highlighted: structuring your day by yourself and being more or less isolated from external sources of support day in and day out can be a burden for many people. The uncertainty of what the pandemic and its aftermath mean for our education, career development, and social networks is a heavy cross to bear. It is clear we must act to create an environment within this new reality that enables mental well-being. The COVID-19 crisis increased multiple risk factors for mental health issues, but it also decreased many factors that were supportive of mental wellbeing, as pointed out by Alexandra Caulfield, Associate Researcher, Karolinska Institute.
Fortunately, many activities that support mental health and people with mental health issues, such as peer support groups, are available online. And the environment of the analogue world can be adjusted to enable mental wellbeing and prevent mental health problems. Sara Cerdas, MEP, European Parliament, reminded participants that billions of euro were made available to EU Member States through the SURE initiative, helping to mitigate risks brought forward by the pandemic. She also made aware that mental health has been included in the new EU4Health programme. However, here is the thing – or the elephant, mental health is not a public health challenge because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mental health issues with their roots in social inequalities, violence and discrimination, poverty, poor working conditions etc. have been with us all along. The stigma of mental disorders is an important societal problem and is still prevalent in our communities, as Emmy, expert by experience, Euro Youth Mental Health, shared with us. We, as a society, are guilty of not addressing these admittedly complex issues in a sufficient and effective manner. Perhaps the pandemic will force us to build a truly new normality, where words economy and wellbeing are spoken in the same breath and where we find and dictate the rhythm of the dance and take the elephant to the floor. The session, moderated by Nicholas Morgan, Director, Euro Youth Mental Health, certainly showed that young professionals know their steps.
This blog text was written by a Young Gasteiner Matej Vinko.