The two years of the pandemic have put the mental health of the youngest to the test, but there is not enough data to create an adequate response, according to Santé Publique France, which launched a national survey on the well-being of children on Monday 2 May.
The study, named Enabee, aims to draw up an assessment of children’s mental health in France, which can be used by authorities to create and implement appropriate actions.
“The health crisis has impacted the mental health of the youngest children and has demonstrated the need for actions for care and prevention based on robust data,” said Geneviève Chêne, director-general of Santé Publique France supported by the ministries of health and education.
Currently, there is no official data relating to the youngest members of society, and it is “essential to have indicators”, Chêne says.
In France and other European countries, lockdowns, school closures, the lack of socialisation and mask-wearing have harmed children’s mental health, causing anxiety, behavioural problems, learning difficulties and sometimes even suicidal thoughts.
“In all the consulting offices in France, in paediatric emergencies, we have seen hundreds of children in a state of malaise, whether they are young or old, with negative thoughts, suicidal thoughts, as we have never seen before in France,” said Professor Christèle Gras-Le Guen, a member of the survey’s scientific committee, on France Info on Monday morning (2 May).
Therefore, it is necessary to assess the scope of the situation, “firstly to understand any difficulties they may have and be able to prevent them as soon as possible. Secondly, to implement actions to encourage healthy behaviours before entering adolescence and adulthood”, Chêne continues.
The survey will be carried out in schools between May and June 2022, and almost 30,000 children from 600 randomly selected schools, from nursery school to kindergarten, will be surveyed.
Children’s mental health is a concern in other parts of Europe
The mental well-being of children and adolescents is not just a concern in France. Last March, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched a programme in partnership with the Greek health minister to promote quality mental health care for children across Europe.
“While the pandemic has affected all members of society, it is the most vulnerable groups, especially children and young people, who have suffered most,” said Dr Hans Kluge, Director of WHO Europe.
The WHO also points out that the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine contributes to the deterioration of the mental health of children and adolescents, which are crucial periods in human life.
“The experience of armed conflict, war, forced displacement or family separation can have negative and often long-lasting consequences on the mental health of populations, especially among vulnerable groups such as children and adolescents,” the WHO says.
In partnership with the Greek Ministry of Health, the WHO programme should offer “concrete measures and solutions to improve and promote their mental health and the quality of mental health services available to them”, Hans Kluge said.
In January, the EURACTIV network assessed the younger generations’ mental health situation across Europe. While there were considerable differences on a national basis, a common thread was that mental health issues, suicidal thoughts, and suicide were on the up amongst youth, and governments were completely underprepared and under-resourced to cope.
In France, the first results of the survey are expected by the end of 2022.
[Edited by Alice Tayor]