EU highlights Malta’s efforts to ensure digital inclusion at height of pandemic

Last Updated on Monday, 10 October, 2022 at 9:31 am by Andre Camilleri

New Report on Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the mental health of young people. Ahead of the World Mental Health Day, a new EU report analyses how European countries have addressed the challenges posed by the pandemic to the mental and emotional wellbeing of young people. The research is part of the European Commission’s efforts to improve mental wellbeing and reduce the stigma of mental health issues.

European countries took a proactive approach to addressing youth mental health challenges during the pandemic. One of the most common measures taken was the reinforcement of psychological support in schools, both by increasing the number of psychologists and counsellors available to students as well as training school staff to recognise and address signs of mental distress.

Malta took several active measures in this regard, particularly in the educational sector, where digital inclusion was prioritised. With the social restrictions associated with the pandemic forcing students to follow classes remotely, authorities provided free laptops and fast internet access to students who could not afford them. In parallel, those who risked falling behind were provided with online support, in the form of e-courses to be followed at home.

Among the best practices outlined in the EU report, the European Commission highlighted a project by the National Youth Agency of Malta, Stories from young people during coronavirus, which sought to give young people a voice during the pandemic. The project involved the creation of a platform on which young people could recount their experiences of living through the COVID-19 pandemic. Their stories highlighted the difficulties encountered and the resilience demonstrated to overcome them, provided information on available resources and, in doing so, served as inspiration for others to cope with similar challenges.

Alongside the efforts of Member States such as Malta, the European Commission designated 2022 as the European Year of Youth in recognition of the sacrifices youth have made during the COVID-19 pandemic. A May 2022 Flash Eurobarometer survey shows young people in 16 of the 27 Member States consider improving youth mental and physical health and wellbeing the (shared) most important priority for the European Year of Youth.

As the future leaders of Europe, the European Commission encourages young people to contribute to shaping the EU. Through a dedicated Voice Platform, the European Commission listens to young people and asks them to share their views, concerns and ideas. Of all voices recorded under the “Health, well-being and sport” category, one third of young people are using the platform to call for an increase in awareness for mental health and affordable access to mental health professionals.

Background

The European Year of Youth 2022 was launched by the European Commission as “a year dedicated to empowering those who have dedicated so much to others”, as announced by President von der Leyen in the State of the Union Address in 2021. It is therefore a year fully dedicated to youth, aiming to empower, encourage and enrich them with new opportunities and new ways of participating and taking an active citizenship role in society.

As an overall goal, the European Year of Youth aims to encourage all young people to make their voices heard, and to participate by sharing their visions and hopes for Europe’s future in relation to the Year’s key topics[2]. One of the key European Year of Youth 2022 objectives is to boost young people’s personal, social and professional development, including their mental health. This is fully in line with the EU Youth Strategy 2019-2027, aiming to achieve better mental wellbeing and reduce the stigma of mental health issues, thus promoting social inclusion of all young people.

The Year also aims to provide visibility and promote European values whilst spreading messages of solidarity across young audiences, as well as supporting Ukraine through all kind of activities.

At the same time, the European Year of Youth is represented by a spirit of co-creation and multiple participation, to which hundreds of youth organisations and stakeholders are actively contributing. This translates into many national and local activations – more than 4 000 activities all over Europe have already been uploaded on the European Year of Youth website – bringing young people together to engage throughout the Year in a positive and relevant way.

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