Mental health of children and young people must be supported through services and measures across society
Children and young people are experiencing more mental strain than before, and as a result, their need for and use of services has also increased. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted these problems, it is not the only reason for them. It is therefore necessary to gain an overall picture of the situation to find the best solutions and identify the social changes needed to help children, young people and young adults.
Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Aki Lindén organised a discussion event on 1 June 2022 to form a more accurate picture of the situation regarding the mental health of children and young people. A wide range of people working in the field, from the local to the national level, were invited to the event.
“We need expertise in the mental health of children and young people, above all, within primary services. We already have good operating models in use but they need to be introduced more widely. However, it is not enough to develop only health and social services. Instead, we must work to improve children and young people’s everyday lives and the environment where they grow up as a whole. This way we can help those who are ill and prevent new problems from arising. Supporting mental health requires seamless cooperation which involves schools and healthcare and social welfare professionals and which also takes account of parents,” says Minister Lindén.
“Primary mental health services are structurally fragmented. In addition, these services are facing a severe shortage of personnel. In developing the system, the focus is already on primary services, but this has not been enough,” says Helena Vorma, Senior Ministerial Adviser at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.
Currently, numerous measures are taken to support the mental health of children and young people and to develop the services. The reform of legislation concerning mental health and substance abuse also affects children and young people. The National Mental Health Strategy contains recommendations concerning all age groups and a section focusing particularly on children and young people and how to promote mental health in day-to-day life. In addition, an overall reform of child welfare has just started.
The health and social services reform will also modify mental health services for children and young people. So far, about 1,000 professionals have been trained under the Future Health and Social Services Programme to provide easily accessible psychosocial support services, and a total of 1,600 young people have already received these services. The Programme to address child and family services (LAPE) and the National Child Strategy aim to improve the status of children comprehensively.
“We are aware of the effects of COVID-19 measures on young people’s mental health. These effects are taken into account, for example, in the Sustainable Growth Programme, under which funding is allocated to supporting the mental health of young people and young adults,” says Senior Medical Officer Tuula Kieseppä.
“There are also practices that work well. For example, the low-threshold Onni activities that are available at the Ohjaamo centres are designed to offer psychosocial support to young people swiftly and effectively,” says Elina Palola, Senior Ministerial Adviser at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.
Society and day-to-day life too challenging for many young people
One of the subjects discussed at the event was the effects of the COVID-19 era especially on young people’s mental health. The number of the most serious mental health illnesses has remained stable, whereas symptoms of anxiety and depression have increased, as has the use of services. Some professionals estimate that patients’ symptoms have become even more difficult. Insufficient services, especially mental health services, have also put an unreasonable strain on child welfare. However, the fact that stigmas associated with mental health conditions have decreased may have made it easier to seek help.
At the event, there was a broad consensus that the COVID-19 era is not the root cause of increased mental health symptoms. Attention should be paid to day-to-day life and the environment where children and young people grow up, such as schools and families. Participants noted that everyday life had become too challenging for children and young people. In addition to treating mental health conditions, emphasis must be placed on their prevention.
It is not enough to develop the services. It is also important to invest in them. Many of the participants highlighted not only the need to develop care services within primary healthcare and family services within social welfare but also the importance of clear responsibilities, a systemic approach to management and multiprofessional cooperation. One the one hand, there is a constant shortage of mental health professionals specialising in young people, but on the other hand, a client may meet a wide range of professionals who all treat the client from their own perspectives. In addition to ensuring access to services, it is important to monitor quality as a whole from the point of view of clients and their families.
- Annex: Overall picture of the situation regarding the mental health of children and young people (in Finnish)
Participants of the event:
Aalto-Setälä Terhi, Senior Physician, Mental Health Team, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare
Häkkinen Laura, Head of Adolescent Psychiatry, Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa
Juvén Taina, Director, Child Psychiatry, Turku University Hospital
Kaartinen Miia, Senior Medical Officer, Regional State Administrative Agency for Western and Inland Finland
Kaltiala Riittakerttu, Professor, Chief Psychiatrist, Tampere University Hospital and Tampere University
Kieseppä Tuula, Senior Medical Officer, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
Kontro Riina, Head of Support for Growth and Learning, Municipality of Nurmijärvi
Laine Terhi, Director, Deaconess Foundation
Lehikoinen Leena, Head of Family Counselling Clinic, Family and Social Services, Social Services and Health Care Division, City of Helsinki
Lehtinen Timo, Special Adviser, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
Lindén Aki, Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
Mäntymaa Mirjami, Chief Physician, Adjunct Professor of Child Psychiatry, Director of Centre of Excellence, Oulu University Hospital, Centre of Excellence for Child Psychiatry
Nikula Anna, Medical Director, Social Services and Health Care Division, City of Helsinki
Palola Elina, Senior Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
Penttilä Sanni, Chief Physician–Service Manager, Siun Sote joint municipal authority for health and social services in North Karelia
Päivänen Maria, Service Director, City of Tampere
Repokari Leena, Head of Child Psychiatry, Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa
Rosberg Julia, Specialist, Children and Young People Unit, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
Suikkanen Hanna, Social Worker/Development Coordinator, ONNI Project (Ohjaamo)
Virolainen Eira, Director, Child Welfare, City of Turku
Vorma Helena, Senior Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
Voutilainen Reetta, Service Manager, Psychosocial Services, City of Vantaa
Väyrynen Tommi, Medical Director, Mental Health and Study Community Work, Finnish Student Health Service
Tuula Kieseppä, Senior Medical Officer, tel. +358 295 163 745
Helena Vorma, Senior Ministerial Adviser, tel. +358 295 163 388
Elina Palola, Senior Ministerial Adviser, tel. +358 295 163 595
email addresses are in the format [email protected]