21st European Social Services Conference: Nordic Day

With youth unemployment reaching alarming levels even in the Nordic countries (20% in Finland and Sweden, 15% in Denmark and Iceland, and 8% in Norway), the Nordic Day at this year’s European Social Services Conference in Dublin focused on the most pressing problems faced by young people. Particular attention was given to youth dropping from secondary education and the high rate amongst youth with mental health problems as, according to Cecilie Høj Anvik, Research Director and Senior Researcher, Nordland Research Institute, Norway, “3 in 10 young people drop out from secondary school and half of them have mental health problems.”

Sven Bremberg, Professor at the Swedish National Institute of Public Health, gave an overview of the development and situation of young people with mental health problems. Mr. Bremberg explained that there is a statistically significant correlation (>0.5) between depression and school failure and that the rate of young people with mental health problems in Sweden has now reached 24%. According to quality of life research, children at the age of 11 rate their lives significantly better than young people aged 15 or 16.

Cecilie Høj Anvik, Research Director at the Nordland Research Institute in Norway, looked at the issue from the perspective of young people themselves, after having conducted interviews with young people who are early school leavers and have mental health problems. Cecilie explained that there is a general concern among youth with mental health problems about their inability to complete secondary education. The most common mental health problems were anxiety and depression and the main reasons were social: loneliness, isolation, exclusion, lack of visibility, feelings of worthlessness and not being taken seriously.

Terje Olsen, Project Manager at the Nordic Centre for Welfare and Social Issues (NVC), talked about Nordic cooperation aimed at disseminating knowledge about good examples in the field. With this in mind, NVC is developing a resources bank (Nordisk Kunnspasbank) with good practices on strategies to fight school drop-out, national policies, regional and local projects.

Discussions focused on the relation between the rate of young people not in employment and the increase in mental health problems caused by education in schools which are poorly equipped to meet their needs or to provide them with qualifications to enter the labour market. The need to listen to young people and their description of the challenges they face was noted as essential for the prevention and services integration strategy.

The European Social Network (ESN) continues to work on these policy and practice themes. Last year, we organised a seminar to explore strategies to fight early school leaving across Europe. From 2013 to 2016, we are part of the workpackage “mental health in schools” within the Joint Action on Mental Health that aims to exchange knowledge on mental health promotion and prevention of mental illness in children and adolescents in schools.