Joining forces to improve young people's mental health

On Wednesday, September 13, 2023, civil society organizations met with parliamentarians at the parliament building to discuss the mental health of young people. The urgent need for action and possible solutions took center stage.

Tagung zur Psychischen Gesundheit

Mental illness is a global phenomenon that affects every fourth person during the course of their life. In a study conducted by UNICEF Switzerland and Liechtenstein, 37 percent of Swiss youth surveyed indicated that they suffer from mental health problems. One out of five young people with symptoms of an anxiety disorder and/or depression have even tried to take their own lives. Around one-third of those affected do not discuss their mental stress with anyone.

Mental health depends on many factors. Risk factors include poverty, violence, discrimination, illness and crises. The conditions under which we live have a huge impact on our health and mental well-being. This makes it all the more important for the different civil society organizations to work together, and for policymakers to take their responsibility seriously.

The Swiss Society for Public Health (Public Health Schweiz) therefore joined forces with the Swiss National Youth Council (SAJV), UNICEF Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Pro Juventute and CIAO as well as central youth councils in Switzerland to organize a conference on mental health in spring 2023. The objective was not only to talk about young people, but also to work with them to find solutions.

The next important step was taken last Wednesday, September 13, 2023 by presenting the topic to public policymakers with broad support. The urgent need for action was discussed with the three cross-party groups on children and young people, child and adolescent medicine and mental health, and options for sustainably improving the mental health of children and young people were identified.

"The need for action is self-evident. As a society, our challenge is to remove the taboos from this topic and invest in prevention. It's all the more important that we combine our strengths and send a clear signal to young people that we take them and their needs seriously," said Bettina Junker, Executive Director of UNICEF Switzerland and Liechtenstein, following intense discussions at the parliament building.

The need for action is clear and it is vital that this is addressed in the coming years:

  • Prevention programs must reach young people at an early stage. Such programs should aim to increase protection and they require the participation of health professionals as well as adults in the immediate circle of the children and young people.
  • A sufficient number of suitable services is required. Services must be developed for and with the participation of young people. The services used by young people and the aspects missing in terms of provision can only be identified in direct discussion with young people.
  • The stigma associated with mental health services must be removed. This can only happen if we as a society learn to talk about our feelings. A great deal of educational work targeting young people as well as adults is required here.
  • Constant monitoring is essential. The data on mental health needs to be improved. Research is required to identify gaps, develop needs-focused measures and gage the effectiveness of such measures.
  • We can only effect change together. Alliances, lobbying and the participation of young people are vital. All strata of society must make a contribution to strengthening the health of young people.

UNICEF Switzerland and Liechtenstein is willing to work together with the other organizations to pursue the chosen course. We can only further the topic as a political discourse and achieve positive changes for young people by working together.