A hope-filled future for our youth

By Bestuur on 08-04-2024

A hope-filled future for our youth
Written by Joyce Grul

Is it possible for young people to still enjoy being young? The answer short answer is no. Study after study shows that young people’s mental health is declining. This is not a surprise with all the developments happening in the world: rising prices, addicting social media, the climate crisis, a war that you can follow live, the housing crisis, increasing poverty and inequality, performance pressure and so much more. Not only young people and experts are worried, but parents are also worried.

Mental health is just as important as physical health but it is less easily discussed and less tangible for those around. It is still a taboo subject and young people fear negative social consequences if they open up about it. In recent years, more and more young people have reported mental health problems such as sleep problems, anxiety, and depression. Young people are also more likely to feel lonely, downcast, gloomy, and experience more stress. There is also an increase in suicidal thoughts and attempts being reported.

What do the numbers show exactly? The decline in mental health is seen in both teenagers and young adults. In 2021, 18% of teenagers felt mentally unhealthy. In 2022, the Youth Health Monitor (gezondheidsmonitor jongvolwassenen) showed that 53% of young adults experience mental health problems. That’s well over half! Within this group, 30% have mild psychological symptoms, 13% have moderate symptoms, and 9% have severe symptoms. Psychological complaints are more common among women and in urban and very urban areas. The problem is also growing more strongly among women than men in recent years.

The health monitor also shows that among young adults with mental health symptoms, 2 out of 5 feel often continuously limited in their daily lives by those symptoms. For instance, mental health complaints can lead to absences from school or work, at times occasionally but often regularly or for longer periods of time. Some young people also turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with their mental health problems.

Talking about youngsters’ mental complaints is important, especially in the dark winter months. Because it is during this time that symptoms are often more pronounced. Yet a quarter of the young people with starting issues have never talked about them with anyone close to them. In addition, some young people cannot find help or experience obstacles in seeking professional help. Not because they don’t want the help but rather because they don’t want to take the place of someone else who also needs it, therapy costs are high or they expect mental symptoms to be dismissed by professionals.

It is therefore important that we start investing in young people’s mental health now. Not only for their health in the present but also because it can reduce the likelihood of future issues. In fact, 63% of the mental health conditions that people experience later in life begin before the age of 25. In 35% of cases, it begins even before the age of 14. By investing, we can prevent youth from later in life being at risk of sleep problems, depressive disorders, substance use, and suicidality. Investing in mental health now therefore reduces the demand for care later. By doing so, we also help keep youth mental health care more accessible in the future for young people with serious mental health problems.

The next question is, how do we go about investing in mental health? A municipality can do several things such as contributing to awareness, recognizing the urgency, contributing to a healthy environment (exercise, healthy food, living environment, etc.), paying for help, and increasing the visibility of informal and affordable help.

Moreover, the municipality can also contribute opportunities for social interaction and meaningful leisure activities. In M:OED’s opinion, this is what the municipality should focus on. Maastricht lacks cool places where young people can get together, specifically under-18s, young people not studying at a higher education institution and queer young people. Over the past few years, we have seen a decline in opportunities. The Mandrill disappeared a few years ago and the same is happening now with Landbouwbelang. Furthermore, realizing a ‘vrijhaven’ does not want to succeed as yet, even though it has been attempted since 2020. Good initiatives have to go to an awful lot of trouble to get support from the municipality and even then they often fail. Alcohol-free dance parties for young people, such as Pure Mestreech and Code043’s Kingsnight, are long gone and have also only taken place on an occasional basis. Finally, LEFteam provides a place for young people during the day, but where are the places in the evenings and weekends?

Young people still have a whole life ahead of them. A life that should take place mainly outside the phone and social media. Hence, the municipality of Maastricht; invest in opportunities for social interaction and meaningful leisure and support the initiatives that want to contribute.

Are you not feeling well or do you recognise the symptoms described above? Then know you are not alone! Check out the website: https://www.allesoke.nl/en or go to @ease in Maastricht for a free and anonymous chat. You can just drop by or chat.

The above figures are summarised from various sources including registrations GPs, CBS youth monitor, COVID-19 RIVM health monitor, Nederlands Jeugdinstituut, health monitor young adults 2022 GGD GHOR, and Trimbos.

Are you looking for other support? Then also have a look at:
Bel or chat with 113 suicide prevention
Moti4 addiction care for young people (ook in Maastricht)
Bel, chat or mail with a prevention worker from Mondriaan for all your questions about substances and addiction (Zuid Limburg)
Bel, chat or mail with the ‘Luisterlijn’ (24/7)
Or visit your GP

Stay updated

By subscribing agree to the processing of your personal data in accordance with our privacy policy.