The focus of mental health work for young people is shifting from the prevention of problems onto the promotion of wellbeing

Internationalisation Civic activity Youth Erasmus+ Erasmus+ for youth work EU youth programmes European Solidarity Corps Welfare Internationalisation
The Mental Health in Youth Work project promotes increasing the amount of positive mental health knowledge, develops the competence of youth workers and promotes a youth-oriented approach to supporting young people’s mental health. The long-term partnerships for cooperation is coordinated by the Finnish National Agency for Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps programmes.
Two person speaking on a bench.
Aurelija Auškalnytė from Lithuania and Kadir Ergün from Turkey discussing the promotion of mental health literacy.

In the cool early summer, 60 Europeans gathered at the Majvik Manor in Kirkkonummi to ponder how the coming years should be used to promote mental health work among young people. In addition to expert organisations on youth work and mental health work, representatives of Erasmus+ for Youth and the European Solidarity Corps’ national agencies were also present. It marked the beginning of a multiyear development project on mental health work through youth work.

The seminar created a shared understanding of the current situation: the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the malaise of young people across Europe, while studying and working have become increasingly burdensome. “We have normalised stress and urgency,” says Maria Agorastou, PhD, from the University of New Hampton. There is a burning need for mental health promotion.

A youth worker’s role in mental health work

When discussing the current situation, it often emerged that many countries want to work with young people to prevent mental health problems. The ideas often focus specifically on problems, which is typical for the entire discussion around mental health. Wellbeing, a functional everyday life, friendships and coping with one’s emotions are neglected as people’s heads are filled with different diagnoses and problems.

During the seminar, the participants began to find a consensus that the promotion of wellbeing should be given priority. Strengthening wellbeing affects all of us and is always topical. For example, the Hand of mental health by Mieli Mental Health Finland clearly lists all the things that help perceiving the state of one’s own wellbeing: values, rest, nutrition, interpersonal relationships and feelings, physical activity, hobbies and creativity. Many participants wanted to translate the great poster into their own language as part of the Mental Health in Youth Work project.

Erika Karstinen, Expert at the Yeesi Youth Mental Health Association also finds it important to shift the focus towards supporting wellbeing. “The emergence of mental health disorders is a complex process, and it is difficult to obtain proof on whether a certain problem could have been prevented. At the level of an individual, talking about prevention may also seem stigmatising, which is why discussing the promotion of wellbeing is a good option,” summarises Karstinen.

In addition to promoting mental wellbeing, youth workers play a role in young people’s mental health work by acting as a first contact when the young person expresses their malaise, experiences something bad or wants to talk about their affairs. “The task of a youth worker is to validate the young person’s experience or story and help them get the right kind of help,” says Pål Isdahl Solberg, Researcher and Youth Worker from Norway.

Raising awareness, strengthening competence and young people’s participation

After a lengthy exchange of ideas, the participants of the Mental Health in Youth Work project ended up focusing on strengthening the competence of youth workers, raising awareness in general and adopting a youth-oriented approach. We can expect at least the following:

  • Awareness-raising online events that broaden the concept of mental health and present activities related to supporting young people’s mental health. The online sessions will begin on 10 October 2022 on World Mental Health Day.
  • A seminar in Turkey in May 2023: young people, expert organisations, decision-makers and national agencies will meet to learn how to promote mental health literacy and mental health, share good practices with each other and create a youth-oriented cooperation between young people, youth workers, organisations and decision-makers.
  • Additionally, there will be study visits to expert organisations and training events on the operating methods and materials of mental health work for young people. The Finnish organisations Yeesi ry and Mieli ry attracted great interest, and the competence of these organisations will be shared with European actors during the project.

Paavo Pyykkönen, Project Coordinator and Senior Programme Adviser, says: “The kick off seminar provided good instructions for future activities. We can be pleased that the funding of the EU Youth Programmes can promote the mental health of young people and provide concrete support for the field of youth work. Mental health skills are civic skills, and everyone working with young people can use them to support their own and young people’s wellbeing.”

Mental Health in Youth Work is one of the long-term partnerships for cooperation coordinated by the Finnish National Agency.

Author: Ysi Valve