Statement of the Youth Delegate at the WHO’s EB Meeting
Throughout the SARS-CoV-19 pandemic, there has been a persistent myth that younger generations are barely affected by the disease. This could not be further from the truth. Young people, too, can get physically sick and spread the disease, but current infection rates are just half of the story. The longer this crisis persists, the deeper its impact on young people’s mental health. The future of an entire generation is at risk.
As IFMSA NL’s Youth Delegate to the World Health Assembly, and from the perspective of a young healthcare worker during the COVID-19 pandemic, I made a statement during this years WHO’s Executive Board (EB) Meeting, which took place 24-29 January of 2022. In this statement, I addressed the need for evidence-based, preventative and promotive interventions on mental health and psychosocial pathology, particularly amongst youngsters during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The EB, composed of 34 health specialists technically qualified in health, gives effect to the decisions and policies of the WHO’s World Health Assembly. The EB also screens and nominates a proposed Director-General to be appointed by the WHA, sets goals and priorities, and approves the budget and activities. Every year, the EB holds a session in January to set the agenda for the World Health Assembly (WHA). The EB meeting always has a packed schedule. As such, all speakers are given a tight time slot of a few minutes to make their statements.
In this statement, I shared the results of a Dutch study during the third wave of COVID-19- de eerste landelijke Monitor Mentale gezondheid en Middelengebruik van Studenten in het hoger onderwijs. In the spring of 2021, 28.000 students filled in an online survey. A whopping 97% of them reported experiencing stress, more than half report psychological complaints or emotional exhaustion, and a quarter report being tired of living entirely. Key elements underlying these results were identified as stress, a pressure to perform and trouble sleeping, as well as loneliness and a lack of social support. Study progress and debt were not found to play a key role in this.
This was the first time that young people’s mental health was researched on a national level. However, concerns about the mental health of youngsters existed far before this research, and far before this pandemic. The necessary measures to prevent further spread of SARS-CoV-19 -online classes, closure of restaurants and gyms, and a nighttime curfew- have only exacerbated these already existing issues. I shared my personal experiences as a young healthcare worker to hopefully bring the aforementioned research results to life.
Fortunately, sharing these personal and evidence-based concerns during the EB meeting was met with a positive response. Several (ex-)youth delegates shared their enthusiasm about the topic on- and offline, and WHO Europe’s regional director Hans Kluge acknowledged its importance during an internal meeting as well.
What do you think? What could be an effective, long-term mental health intervention for youths?