Pandemic left young people behind warns World Health Organisation

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The pandemic has profoundly affected young people, for whom lockdown measures have drastically reduced opportunities to learn, work and socialise, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned.

The toll it has taken on their mental health has been particularly heavy, compounded by a limited ability to make their voices heard. In addition, public discourse has often branded youth as main transmitters, or “super spreaders”, of the virus.

On top of the difficulties young people have faced, governments and health systems have struggled to meet their needs during the pandemic. This was the conclusion at the recent Policy Forum on Behavioural and Cultural Insights, which brought together Member States to discuss the impact of the pandemic on the Region’s youth.

Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, spoke of the “immense gratitude” that young people deserved from the public health sector and wider society for their sacrifices over the last 16 months. He highlighted the importance of creating meaningful engagement with young people, noting that, “if we are to take young people’s experiences and well-being seriously, we must take youth participation seriously”.

Marius Schlageter, Vice-President of the German Federal Youth Council, called for the recognition of young people as a marginalized demographic.

“They are unable to vote and run for office, so they are not represented in our democracy. Therefore, a special effort needs to be made to recognize the needs of young people within policy,” he said.

The participation of young people in decision-making is crucial to ensuring that health officials can deliver the very best, targeted youth welfare interventions. This is especially important regarding access to services like mental health support. Examples of ways to hear from young people were shared at the policy forum, ranging from surveys and social media engagement to direct engagement with marginalized young people and the inclusion of youth groups in the policy process itself, he added.

The Policy Forum on Behavioural and Cultural Insights was established in 2020 to facilitate discussion between countries about the Covid-19 pandemic response and has been running regularly since December last year. The event was organized by the WHO European Region’s Behavioural and Cultural Insights unit and Emergencies Programme.

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Deirdre Tynan

Deirdre Tynan is an award-winning journalist who enjoys bringing the best in news reporting to Spain’s largest English-language newspaper, Euro Weekly News. She has previously worked at The Mirror, Ireland on Sunday and for news agencies, media outlets and international organisations in America, Europe and Asia. A huge fan of British politics and newspapers, Deirdre is equally fascinated by the political scene in Madrid and Sevilla. She moved to Spain in 2018 and is based in Jaen.