As this year’s International Youth Day focuses on youth and mental health, FRA points to the need to address mental health issues from an early age. This will better prepare young people for employment and inclusion in the community by tackling the stigma and discrimination that many face during their formative years.
FRA’s research previously looked at how people with mental health problems in nine EU Member States experienced autonomy, inclusion and participation in their daily lives. This included educational settings. The findings are available in the agency’s report ‘Choice and control: the right to independent living’.
The work shows how young people with mental health issues experience bullying by classmates or teachers in school. Some of the people FRA spoke to mentioned how they felt unable to protect themselves or to ask for help from their teachers or parents. For example, one person said: “If I would have got my diagnoses earlier, staff in school would have known better about my disability and it would have been easier for me to adjust. […] School staff did not understand or attend to my needs.”
The first symptoms of mental health problems often appear during school years and can interrupt education. FRA research shows that many people face difficulties continuing their education due to the demands of treatment or because schools do not accommodate the needs of students with mental health issues. In particular, they highlighted how educational systems frequently fail to offer the flexibility required by the fluctuating nature of mental ill health.
Disruption to education can have knock-on effects on employment opportunities. One woman FRA spoke to was frustrated that mental health issues during her school years had left her with a lower level of education. She felt this had cost her the chance of a more satisfying career.
Lack of encouragement, empowerment and opportunity to develop skills and independence in early life can impose constraints on the opportunities to live independently and participate in community life. Measures are therefore needed to allow young people with mental health conditions to lead full and healthy lives free from isolation and unnecessary shame, and to openly seek the services and support they need.
The UN has made 12 August International Youth Day. It aims to raise awareness of youth issues worldwide.